The Fall of Anne Boleyn: Day -18

Posted By on May 1, 2020

Events were moving at quite a pace at Henry VIII’s court in April and May 1536.

1st May was May Day and time for celebrating what was seen as the first day of summer. At court, this mean it was the day of the annual May Day joust. King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn were in attendance, and everything was fine until the king abruptly left, asking his groom of the stool, Sir Henry Norris, to accompany him.

What was going on?

Find out in this talk:

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And you can find out more about how May Day was celebrated in this video:

15 thoughts on “The Fall of Anne Boleyn: Day -18”

  1. Michael Wright says:

    I see this as a complete setup by Henry to entrap Norris. This way Henry could say that Norris had been questioned. It doesn’t matter that they had known each other for years and were close, Henry looked out for Henry’s needs only and Henry needed to get rid of Anne so throwing Norris under the bus was no problem. Another reason I think this was a set-up was Henry lending Norris his horse. At this point Henry was a petty vindictive man and if he truly believed that there was something going on between Henry Norris and his wife I can’t imagine him controlling his anger enough to make such a generous offer. I think Henry VIII simply used this opportunity to help advance his agenda, setting up Henry Norris to use as more ‘proof’ for Cromwell’s machinations. I’m not ready however to go so far as to say Henry VIII knew these proceedings were going to lead to a mass murder of six innocent people.

  2. Christine says:

    That long ago fateful May Day is enshrined in the tragedy of Queen Anne Boleyn and those who fell with her, the day was going well there were the jousting the cheers of the crowd, the colourful array of the costumes on the horses and the company, pennants fluttering in the breeze, and there was the king and queen, the atmosphere between them was not as well as it should be but they put on a show of solidarity, Anne’s foolish remark to Norris had got to the ears of the king and they had possibly had an argument about it, she had miscarried her baby back in January which had led to the king in his grief saying he had been seduced into this marriage by sorcery, he also said he believed god did not wish him to have any male children, he was courting one of the queens ladies in waiting, a mistress Seymour who was very unlike the queen in looks and demeanour, he was quite enamoured of her and historians believe he was thinking of putting Anne away and making her his next queen, Anne had her suspicions about this and sensed something awful was going to happen to her but for now it was the traditional May Day joust and as queen she was presiding over it with her husband the king, there was a tale which had Norris riding upto the queen and she lent him her scarf to wipe his brow on, and Henry angrily intercepted this as something intimate between them, but that was possibly the work of the Spanish Chronicle which is not a reliable source of information, someone came upto the king and whispered in his ear, and he abruptly left leaving his queen to preside over the tournament, it was strange and many must have looked after him that day, including the queen, he took Norris back with him to London and along the way accused him of committing adultery with the queen, it must have been a dreadful shock to Norris who was offered a pardon if he were to confess, we can see here Henry did love his old friend and Cromwell knew this, he was trying to save his life but Norris was now implicated and he refused to comply with the king, Norris was obviously a man of honour and he declared his innocence and Anne’s innocence to the world, he was to go on declaring his innocence till death, but yes I agree with Michael the king wanted rid of Anne so certain sacrifices had to be made, but I believe Henry did regret killing his old friend, there is one source that says he regretted years later killing Anne so I believe Henry must have had his conscience troubled over Norris too, his one time friend and faithful retainer.

  3. Dorothy Willis says:

    I think the plan was complete and it was arranged to be set in motion on this very public occasion to demonstrate that the king knew nothing – nothing until he received some information while attending the festivities. Upon which he dropped everything and immediately began investigation of this terrible charge. I think the person who wrote that account saw it that way because he used the phrase “cloaking their impending ruin.” Henry was spinning the story in his favor from the start. I’m surprised there is no mention of the king receiving a letter, reading it, looking disturbed, and immediately calling for his horse. It would make better theater instead of just suddenly jumping up as if he had just remembered something. But whatever the details were, I think the scene at the joust was Act 1, scene 1, of a tragedy and the script was already complete.

    1. Michael Wright says:

      My feeling exactly. Henry had to appear the victim and not be seen to be discarding his second wife unjustly as he did his first.

      1. Christine says:

        Henry V111’s behaviour however throughout this whole sorry affair is totally unconvincing, he may have had Anne’s name plastered with mud and gone around saying he believed Anne had slept with up to a hundred men, but his wining and dining Jane Seymour was making people murmer against him, were not the arrests of the queen and her lovers a little too convenient, Chapyus was to exclaim ‘he wore his horns lightly I beg you to wonder why’? Apt description indeed !

        1. Michael Wright says:

          Your point about Henry wining and dining Jane was exactly what what I was pointing out with regards to lending Henry Norris a horse at the joust. Henry VIII was terrible at concealing his emotions and if he truly believed nhebhad been betrayed by his friend he would have been seething, not asking Norris to go with him so they could ‘talk’.

    2. Christine says:

      Dorothy welcome back !

  4. Christine says:

    Yes that’s true Michael.

  5. Banditqueen says:

    I give in, Henry Norris obviously had an affair with Anne Boleyn, he has been mentioned several times now and must have seen the Queen as easily accessible rampant totty. And boy, oh boy, the Queen must have really had the hots for him: perhaps she liked older men. She dropped him her hanky at the May Day Joust! What a brazen hussy!

    The entire thing would be laughable if it were not deadly serious. Henry was in a good mood but could well have been concealing his dark secret, waiting to hear the confession of Mark Smeaton and then his mood changed to blood and thunder. Whether he believed the charges or not, from this point on Henry gave every indication that he no longer cared. Everything was falling into place. The trap was sprung and the lion pounced. Henry knew Norris, so of course he must have had some idea about his fidelity. A man will often believe and forgive a friend or brother over a wife or lover. Not in this case, he put the question to him three times, maybe some symbolism here as Peter was asked three times if he knew Jesus and denied him and later three times if he loved him and three times answered yes. Anyway, Henry interrogated Norris and didn’t accept his passionate assertions of his innocence and readiness to defend Anne with his body. Unfortunately, demanding trial by combat was no longer possible or I can just imagine him fighting the King’s champion like Lancelot and proving Anne innocent. Norris was thought guilty and taken to the Tower, as were others. Anne had one night of freedom left and must have been worried sick.

    By the way my opening statement is not serious. I haven’t gone completely loopy, I am being sarcastic. Norris was mentioned as the prime suspect on at least four separate occasions up to know. One wonders how he became a major target. Yes he was a reformer, but so were a number of people, they were not all rounded up, yes he had access to Anne and Henry, but so had dozens of others in the same way, he was an old friend going back years. Maybe that is what made the case believable, Norris and the others could well be in the chambers of the Queen because he had a lot of access to them. Anne had also made him a much easier target by her unguarded words, there doesn’t seem to have been a political motive against him, he just knew Anne too well. Like Mark he appeared to be a rather easy target.

  6. Banditqueen says:

    Henry had put on a good public face since the middle of April, while Cromwell made ready the ground, gathering evidence, ensuring the legal mechanisms were in place and they had waited for the targets to take the bait and for someone to make the fatal mistake which gave the crown’s case believability. The Queen’s fatal words to Sir Henry Norris, the forced and convenient confession of poor Mark Smeaton and if it happened, the alleged conversations between Sir Anthony Browne and his sister Elizabeth, which was reported to the authorities and the naming of some of the same men, all came together for Thomas Cromwell, all gave him the basis of a case at least. I doubt even Cromwell was expecting a case which literally fell accidentally into his lap. I doubt he actually expected a confession which was as good as the one he got. Smeaton didn’t just admit to a one off but to sleeping with Anne on three separate occasions and there was the possibility that Norris had made some kind of confession, which he later denounced in Court. Cromwell had in truth a flimsy case but it was enough to make everything sound convincing when he invented the rest of the indictments, dates, times and places. Henry and his puppet master had abided their time and now everything had fallen neatly into place, the deception and secrecy of the last week or so was now lifted and everything brought into the light. Henry had left the joust publicly and had ridden off publicly in an obvious rage, now his courtiers knew that he had ordered the arrest of his old friend and Groom of the Stool, his most intimate companion, his brother by law, several other members of the household and in the morning he would arrest the Queen. All of this scandal would go viral within hours and the public must have been in a spin in every tavern in London. The great pretence was over and the truth was out, the world knew Henry wanted rid of his second wife and now they knew how it would happen, through a public trial and potential execution. No more “beloved wife” , no more demanding that Charles V recognise Anne as Queen before the entire Court and no more pretentious public appearances. It was over. The judicial process must now take its cause.

    From this moment on Henry’s behaviour was bizarre, he withdrew from many public appearances, he acted as if Anne and the five innocent men were already dead, he was entertaining and entertained by the Seymour family and their supporters and he planned every detail of what was to come with morbid fascination and he turned his back on the woman he had once turned the world upside down to process.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      I know we all agree that Anne was innocent but I am disturbed by the more recent growing number, albeit very small number of historians who are starting to say Anne was guilty of some of the charges against her. This began as far as I aware in the decades after her death, in the nineteenth century, but I am talking about the last decade only. Despite the publication of many years of research by Eric Ives and others in the 80s and decades since, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the charges, the majority at least are totally invented and the rest can be dismissed as dubious, despite the fact that most academics and none academic researchers and historians believe the same thing, there has been a movement to blacken her name all over again.

      In 2010 Professor Bernard published Anne Boleyn. Fatal Attractions, in the face of much media speculation and malicious gossip and asked was Anne guilty. Using the poem by Lancelot Carles which is a contemporary life in verse, published 1536, Bernard, after several chapters in which he evaluated other work ( a loose term for his writing) declared Anne was guilty of something. He concluded she had slept with Norris and Smeaton. Norris had regularly visited Anne and they had a close bond and Mark in order to get pregnant. The famous gossip outlined in the poem and which one should dismiss was allegedly spoken by Elizabeth Browne, Countess of Worcester, who Bernard says was in a position to know what was going on. Yes, and was a woman of questionable morals herself and was just that, a gossip. I would completely dismiss this incident but for the fact Lady Worcester is named as Anne’s accuser in two reliable sources, the report by Judge Spellman on her trial and a letter to Lady Lisle. We don’t know what she said or the pressure on her, most probably by her brother, Sir Anthony Browne, or if she gave testimony. However, everything she said was gossip, although hearsay evidence was accepted under oath in the sixteenth century. If the person sincerely believed it to be true, it may be acceptable in evidence. There is a big question mark over her giving testimony, but she may well have made a disposition or sworn statement. We cannot accept such evidence today and must therefore dismiss her evidence. Bernard however made it the entire basis of his theory. Now I welcome his work, its a scholarly read, well referenced, as contributing to the debate but I don’t accept his conclusions and he hasn’t shown Anne to be guilty. His other argument was that because some people were released, the investigation was done properly and there was no miscarriage of justice. It’s actually a good point, but we also know the judiciary and trial judges were made up of those who were relied upon to find her guilty, the mechanism was in place before hand and much of it was a set up. The two men arrested and released were protected by Cromwell. The book, therefore is interesting, but flawed. It provides us with nothing to contradict the opinion of the majority or our own.

      More controversial is the suggestion by Alison Weir that Anne loved Norris based on her last confession or rather what Anne didn’t say. Anne said she had not been unfaithful with her body but Weir built an entire theory on her idea that maybe she was unfaithful in her mind and heart. Even so, not treason, not unless she intended to act upon such thoughts.

      Then there is the idea that Norris was the father of Anne’s last child, in a paper published a couple of years ago and taken up by others. The historian actually did some very good research and leaves the question open. Claire did an article which refuted the ideas. However, even more controversial is that this idea isn’t new, save that the protagonist has changed. Philippa Gregory ran with the idea that Anne slept with George in order to give Henry a son and we all know the controversial debate around The Other Boleyn Girl. Yes, this is fictional but the author presents the idea as a historic fact, despite the evidence to the contrary. She has a huge following and unfortunately most of her readers believe the rubbish she has written. Her book claimed to take its roots in the excellent work by Professor Warnicke who actually believed Anne and the others were innocent but that their downfall was because of witchcraft, i.e. the alleged deformed foetus and homosexuality. Gregory pounced on this idea claiming that a deformed baby was believed to be as a result of adultery. She therefore believed Anne guilty of adultery. However, four sources show that Anne didn’t have a deformed baby and the tale was invented 60 years later by Nicholas Sander. Warnicke however believed it led to Anne’s doom from that moment and cited two works from the sixteenth century. It wasn’t the prevailing view of the authorities and Church at that time. Gregory has twisted the research of Professor Warnicke, which is excellent scholarship in itself, if very controversial, for her own ends as nowhere does Warnicke accuse Anne of adultery with her brother. She did make the case that George and the others were targeted because of sexual deviance of a different nature, however: they were homosexual. Apart from some very odd interpretations of the death speeches of some of the men on the scaffold, no actual evidence existed to support this theory either.

      The idea that Norris was the father of one of Anne’s lost children or her lover continued for several decades. Janet Werner has translated a seventeenth century biography of Anne which has some illuminating views on this being true, which is on her blog. It might be worth having a read. However, as I said, this was very much part of her after life during those centuries and foreigners continued with the anti Boleyn and anti Elizabeth agenda for a very long time. With the examination of the indictments over the last 100 years or so a different picture has emerged, one of the impossibility of most of them as the men or Anne were not in the place alleged. Either that or she was pregnant or in confinement at the time. The emergence of better evidence, of a wider variety of documents about Anne, a fuller study of these terrible events and the letters of Cromwell, the L and P and people who knew Anne better have given us a more balanced view of this extraordinary woman. We now have a pretty good idea about her innocence and thanks to Friedman and many others we now understand her life in a more fuller way. Ives has shown the true Anne Boleyn and a number of historians have gone the same way through studying the original texts. It amazes me no end, therefore that again her reputation has been put back under the spotlight, even by so called historians and academics. Anne is the subject of much on screen attention and her character is the subject of much scrutiny and sadly today entertainment. Fictional though many of these portrayals are, social media loves these fake controversies and Anne is often attacked by small minds, which is a great shame, especially when so much real history and research is now available and the truth has been known for years.

      1. Michael Wright says:

        That’s terrible. I don’t care how long ago this was. Stop slandering her name and those of the other accused. All I can say is scandal sells. I don’t know anything about the publishing world but is it possible that that maxim has also crept into historical publishing? Historical novels, fine, I have no problem with playing with the facts or positing ‘what ifs’ but make sure that is clearly the intent from the beginning. Please don’t pass it off as fact! Keep in mind this kind of treatment could happen to you long after your own demise and could have a very detrimental effect on your own descendants.

      2. Dorothy Willis says:

        Michael is correct: scandal sells. It is a cheap but often successful trick to sell books by advocating the opposite of the accepted view of a person or event. It doesn’t matter if it’s completely nutty, it will get published, especially now with e-publishing available, and you will get a reputation as a ground-breaking scholar. I would not be surprised to have someone turn up with “Ulysses S. Grant: Secret Slaveholder.”

        1. Michael Wright says:

          Sad but true.

  7. Christine says:

    Must mention Teasel it was lovely to see her again Claire she really is a beautiful dog.

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