On 24th April 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn had twenty-five days more to live. Could she have known that? No. But she was probably worrying about her husband’s interest in Jane Seymour, one of her ladies, and she may well have sensed that something was brewing.

On this day in 1536, Sir Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII, set up two commissions of oyer and terminer, one for the county of Middlesex and one for the county of Kent. These were special legal commissions. Did they have anything to do with the fall of Anne Boleyn? Find out in the first of my “The Fall of Anne Boleyn” series of videos:

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20 thoughts on “The Fall of Anne Boleyn: Day -25”
  1. And so it begins. One of the worst miscarriages of justice in English history leading to the judicial murder if an anointed queen and the slaughter of 5 innocent men.

  2. She was abandoned not only by her husband but her family as well. She didn’t have the backing of being a “foreign” bride like Katherine of Aragon who’s relatives would have sent an army or made things very difficult for Henry. I loved it with future potential brides from overseas knocked Henry back by saying, “only if I had two heads”. Anne and Catherine Howard had no chance.

    1. Anne wasn’t abandoned by her family. I doubt if any of the six were abandoned. At this stage in the reign of Henry VIII once someone was in his crosshairs or custody there was nothing anybody could do. No amount of pleading or bargaining would work and there was a good chance you could end up the same way. In Anne’s case Henry wanted her dead plain and simple. She could not be saved and Thomas Cromwell saw to it that his master’s wish was carried out.

  3. I do concur Michael, that Anne wasn’t abandoned and with Sarah too, that she lacked the substantial clout of KoA, but can’t help reflecting that her abrasive personality seems to have alienated the very few influential people – like the DoN and DoS – who ‘might’ have stuck by her. Cromwell seems to have imprisoned the very few remaining loyalists she had.

    1. Hi Globerose, hi Sarah. I agree with you Sarah regarding KofA. If her mother , Isabella of Castile were still living when Henry was treating her so badly I could imagine her bringing the whole might of Spain down on Henry’s head.

  4. Thomas Audley sets up the legal mechanisms which will be used to investigate the eventual charges against Anne Boleyn and the men accused with her. Oyer and terminer to determine and investigate and although no charges or arrests had been made everything was in place for when the evidence was found. So it begins indeed, Michael, one of the greatest miscarriage of justice in history. Audley was Lord Chancellor and did have the power without royal instructions but in this case Henry must have given initial instructions for an investigation based on rumours of treason and other serious crimes. Henry was the boss and must have at least authorized such investigations into allegations against the Queen.

    Sarah, you are correct that Anne didn’t have the support of a great family abroad and potential armies invading England as Katherine of Aragon did, via her nephew, Charles V. However, Michael and Globerose you are also correct, Anne’s family didn’t desert her, we have no evidence to tell us how they felt about her arrest, unfortunately but neither is there any evidence that Elizabeth or Thomas Boleyn abandoned her. Her father was ordered to sit at the trials of four of the men and not Anne because he was her father. Norfolk was Earl Marshall of England, of course he had to sit at her trial but he was also of the mind that she may have been guilty, as he showed contempt at her arrest, but he also wept at her sentence and maybe he was truly sorry for her fate. The family went back home afterwards and stayed away for over a month or more until summoned to help raise troops for the Pilgrimage of Grace. However, that was their duty as loyal courtiers. Most families involved in treason did the same in order to regain the family property which was often confiscated or to protect the future of surviving family members. The Boleyn family were no different and could do nothing to save her. Her mother was ill at the time and her illness was probably made worse by the traumatic end to her adult son and daughter. The son of Thomas Cromwell sucked up to the King after his father was executed and remained in royal public service. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really much choice…exile and poverty and shame or a show of loyalty and living as before, as best they could. Henry and other Kings could legally extend their anger to the entire family if they wanted, by taking property, personal goods and title and money through a Bill in Parliament that said their heirs could not inherit. It was by the grace of the King that the family carried on. That unfortunately was the brutal reality. The Howards all got locked up after the fall of Kathryn Howard and nobody knew how long they would be in the Tower. The King gave them pardons eventually but much of their property was confiscated. Henry might take goods from one family and give it to another more loyal. He spared the remaining Boleyn family but things were not as they had been before. It was brutal.

  5. I think we do have some idea of how the Boleyn family felt. Elizabeth Boleyn’s death in 1538. I know she was Ill but I also think grief exacerbated her illness and hastened her death. Thomas died inn1539. He may have lived longer but after the passing if his wife with the exception of Mary he’d lost his entire family and I think he just gave up. Shameful how one self important man can destroy an entire family without much thought.

    1. I agree, Michael, I know Elizabeth Boleyn was already ill, her illness was reported in a letter from another courtier to the Lady Lisle I think, then Anne said she feared for her poor mother who was ill. She had a cough which was getting worse which suggests TB. I believe the same that Elizabeth was made worse by the stress and trauma of losing two adult children on the block. It’s not as if they died of something naturally, that would have been traumatic enough, they were dragged before a public trial, in front of 2000 people and humiliated, they were questioned, locked up in the Tower, they were then publicly beheaded and even Anne faced over 1000 people in her “private” execution and their names were stained with the shame and iniquity of incest and adultery and plotting to kill their King. We know that they were innocent but that doesn’t make it any less humiliating and they faced the shadow of fear and shame and the tainted stain of being traitors . Elizabeth and Thomas still had to put up with people pointing the finger at them and possibly murmuring under their breath “Traitors” ” Your daughter was a whore” “Your son was an abomination!” ” Your children were demonic and how can you face the shame and slander that they brought on themselves ? ” People were just as cruel then as now and such whispers would have been heard. Some people believed the lies and no doubt repeated them over and over again. Elizabeth and Thomas must have felt sick to hear those things. Knowing that their intelligent and lovely daughter was being slandered in this way, that she was innocent and that the charges against her and her charming and boisterous but intelligent son were false, yet that made no difference, all must have been soul destroying. All the remaining family could do was to remove themselves to the country and mourn. Thomas wrote a note to Cromwell when told to hand over the Privy Seal and asked to lend him a garter and cloak that he complied but please go away and stop bothering me. It was curt and short. Elizabeth became worse and died and Thomas died with less than a year of his wife. Now he was a good age, in his 60s I believe but even so, his life could well have been shortened by the loss of his wife and son and daughter in such terrible circumstances and so little a time. The death of Anne and George Boleyn I believe as well hastened their parents demise.

  6. Even though the Commission was set up without the signature of Henry Viii and the crimes it investigated were not specific, it was indeed as Claim has said in nearly every article on this in previous years, it was more than a coincidence that these particular Commissions resulted in the specific Grand Juries which committed Norris and the others and Anne for trial by their decisions of 11th and 12th May. No arrests were made and Alison Weir is wrong you didn’t need an arrest at this point, they could hear evidence and investigate first and then bring indictments.

    The legal mechanisms had to be in place and given the speed at which everything happened after 30th April with the first arrests and the confession of Mark Smeaton to the two trials and five executions. 19 days from arrests to executions. When did any real investigation take place? The truth was there wasn’t any real evidence and Cromwell pulled at very long strings made up of small bits of gossip, innocent talk between Anne and her friends and gossip by Lady Worcester and her ladies and she was set up accordingly. Everything else Cromwell invented, the dates, times and places but the members of the Grand Juries, the hearings and trial juries, her judges were selected because Henry could rely on them doing their duty. Three quarters of the dates and indictments were absolute rubbish and are demonstrably false. Others are at best questionable. The legal mechanisms were put in place and then Cromwell sat back and ensured that the various parties either gave themselves away or fell into the trap.

    Now I don’t believe in the evil Cromwell here, nor do I believe he put together a step by step masterplan but in the high stressed out and tension filled den of intrigue of these last days of April 1536 it was easy to sit and wait and the targets gave him the break he needed. Anne was the first to fall into a trap by going too far one evening with courtly love games by talking to Sir Henry Norris about wanting her if the King died. Technically it was treason but it was said in jest and of course the King got to hear about it and Anne made things worse by sending him to her chaplain to say she was a good woman, thus drawing unwanted attention to their folly. I don’t believe they intended harm but it was enough for suspicion to fall on them and more was to come.

    The alleged gossip made by Lady Elizabeth Browne, Countess of Worcester to her brother, Sir Anthony Browne who repeated it to Cromwell and the King implicated Norris and Mark Smeaton according to Carles and a letter to Lady Lisle, together with the fatal confession of Mark Smeaton who also mentioned Norris, to sleeping with Anne three times made the case seem credible. Any amount of fake evidence and testimony could have been given to these Commissions and if these people believed it was their duty to find Anne guilty then she didn’t stand a chance. The others were carefully targeted because they were around Anne and the King, had made off the cuff remarks about loving the Queen, Cromwell had something against them or they were misfits. They made credible “lovers” for the Queen because of their connectivity to her and access to her. Historians have a million theories about why these particular men ended up in this spiders web or the fall of Anne Boleyn but the simple fact was, Henry wanted out and Cromwell provided the means. Much of what followed was coincidental but Cromwell soon managed to twist every innocent remark he could find into “evidence” and the legal wheels began to turn.

    1. Henry was well aware of the lack of evidence against Anne and the other 5 in this case and how the public perceived the precedings against them. You see that in how thorough the investigation into Catherine Howard and her ‘lovers’ was in that case. Though there is no way to ever know if the report that on his deathbed Henry spoke words of regret for his treatment of Anne, I like to hope it is. It would show a spark of humanity left in him at the end.

  7. It’s difficult to know what he knew at this point as the actual charges don’t emerge until after the interrogation of Mark Smeaton six days later, but he definitely knew a case was going to be made and an investigation was definitely under way. He was absolutely livid with Anne if the testimony of her chaplain is to be believed, writing to her daughter, Elizabeth many years later, over something the day before all of these arrests. Had he learned about her daft conversation with Henry Norris? Yet, all seemed well and Henry was in a good mood at the May Day Jousts until a note was passed to the King, the contents of which nobody knows. However, given that Henry stormed out, demanding Norris go with him and proceeded to question him, we can certainly take an educational guess that it was something like. ” Mark Smeaton has confessed and confirmed that Henry Norris was having an affair with the Queen “. Henry was definitely aware that the charges when they did emerge in the indictment were flimsy or false. One would like to side with Dr Susanna Lipscomb and say yes, Henry still loved Anne and was genuinely shocked and believed her to have betrayed him, but I think she is actually too nice and really can’t see Henry as wanting Anne out of the way. Her theory that Anne appeared guilty because she played the part of courtly love is only one of many and yes, that made it easier to construct a case against her, but I don’t believe Henry thought Anne was guilty. I don’t think he cared if she was guilty or not. I do believe he was a bit shocked at the number of indictments and individuals involved in his wife’s exploits, but left Cromwell to get on with making his case and was prepared to sacrifice these men if they appeared guilty. Henry was indifferent to how Cromwell ended his troublesome marriage and let’s not mince words here, Henry could no longer live with Anne, she was a problem. That sounds harsh, I know, but difficult as it is, it’s the raw truth, Anne was a challenge to Henry’s authority. Her enemies were suddenly able to say what they wanted and remove a woman to whom the King had been totally committed and about whom he would not have had a bad word said at one time. That proves to me anyway that Henry was willing to not only walk away but to believe any old rubbish in order to make the ending of his second marriage easy and permanent. If Henry didn’t believe the charges or know they were nonsense, he certainly convinced himself and everyone else because he even had people feeling sorry for him. I do believe Henry cared about his public image though because he allowed Cromwell to go out of the way to destroy Anne’s reputation. His honour was being questioned and his manhood, his ability to control his wife, his superiority over his wife and his sexual dominance. In order for people to accept it was not his own failures in these areas that led to his wife’s adultery Henry had to paint her as a,sexual predictor, who was out of control. This meant adding as many bizarre and shocking charges as possible. Incest was the worst. It was the most shameful but also it gave the public an image of a woman who was a she devil and capable of every crime, sin and evil going.

    The Cotton Document in which the death bed admission was made by Henry was not an original documentation so its slightly problematic as the later document which refers to it dated from 1572. It would be nice however to think that this recalls a genuine conversation in which Henry regretted Anne’s death. I might remain sceptical but I don’t believe Henry was as devoid of emotions as some people believe and that’s why he ran away from these difficult executions. He acted almost as if Anne was already dead. I am not entirely convinced that he didn’t feel something in his most private moments.

    Finally, yes, when one thinks of the time and care taken in trying to get to the truth of the matter with Kathryn Howard and that he didn’t believe the accusations against her at first, this was all done with indecent haste. It was one of the most callous and brutal episodes in Henry’s life and if he still loved her, then why would he abandon her so completely and carelessly to her fate? Why the rush to judgement as they say today? How desperate could he have been? How did love turn to hate so quickly? A lot of questions we cannot answer and its terrifying.

    1. I have heard this that Henry V111 once expressed regret for executing Anne, when he lay dying he may have been going over the events in his life and his conscience must have irked him a little, I like to think he regretted also the miserable deaths of the monks of the charter house, there was a myth that Henry muttered the word monks on his deathbed, he must also have regretted his treatment of Katherine of Aragon and the many who had ended up on the scaffold, but we do not know, it would be fascinating if the Cotton document revealed the truth of the kings deathbed conversation, but if he did say such a thing about Anne Boleyn, who did he say it to? Cranmer arrived too late as the power of speech had left Henry but he knew he was there as he pressed his hand, he had been in bed for several days so he could well have mentioned such a thing to those who tended on him, I’d like to think also he regretted killing Anne in such a brutal way, Henry and his sycophants may have called her execution justice but it was not justice, even more dreadful was the kings behaviour whilst it was all going on, he was cavorting about being entertained by the Seymour family whilst poor Anne and her alleged lovers were holed up in the Tower praying earnestly for justice, and yes when we consider the complete difference with Catherine Howard, there was no hastily drawn up commissions, the investigation went on for several weeks and even though the Queen was confined to her apartments, (which I think seems a bit ominous anyway, because it looked like she was being treated like she was guilty), Henry was not seeking to destroy her, a scandal was put about by the Queen so an investigation had to take place, this was the legal thing to do, no man was rounded up and threatened with torture and taken to The Tower right away, and Catherine neither was taken to the Tower, she was at Hampton Court then Syon House, she was only rowed to the Tower shortly before her death, there is a huge difference in the treatment between Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, the speed at which it occurred was shocking and when we consider the blood that was spilt was horrendous.

    2. I don’t know if he actually knew details of the proceedings but he may have heard murmurs first hand or was told about them by courtiers as to doubts the public had of their guilt. He may also have looked at some of the court documents or was informed of all of the ‘on or about’s in the findings of oyer and terminer and realized how shaky it looked. Or it could just be that when Catherine Howard’s case came around the court officers took it upon themselves to make sure everything was above board to protect the king and themselves from criticism.

  8. Poor Anne, once the kings darling and now he was doing everything he could to extricate himself from her, whereas once he had done everything he could to possess her, I ask the same Bq when did love turn to hate? I think Henry V111 fell in love with a fantasy, Anne seemed far more beguiling to him because she was unattainable, when at last they were married after waiting and striving so long, the image was shattered a little, she was now his wife and he could see her, not with the romantic ideal of the poet the ardent suitor, but that of a king whose queen was expected to be like a queen, charming gracious and subservient, not the demanding attractive shrew that suited the character of a mistress, she was expected to bear children in Henry’s case – sons, yet she continued to behave as if she was the kings mistress still, and that was her fatal mistake, if only Anne had exercised humility graciousness and self control, she would not have lost her head I am sure of it, but her nagging ways and sharp vitriolic tongue wearied the king, it was said he had not spoken to her for several weeks after one such outburst, but however unsuitable she was to be a queen consort she certainly did not deserve to lose her head and in such horrific circumstances, the commissions of oyer and terminar must have been given the go ahead by the king as surely Audley would not have done this on his own back, when we know how frighteningly swift the ‘legal machinery’ occurred then a more sinister picture comes to mind, that of the need to destroy an innocent woman and five innocent men, the fall of Anne Boleyn was so sudden that it left the whole court reeling.

  9. Hi Christine, hope you are o.k, lovely to hear from you. Are you taking care of yourself?

    I completely agree, Anne was too much for Henry. His behaviour towards her during their marriage shows he expected a different sort of wife to the exciting and demanding mistress he had fallen in love with. Henry told Anne to mind her own business when she made suggestions about their daughter or political policy. Ironically, he then took some of them on board, but that was the point, they were meant to be his ideas. Henry was determined not to be contradicted and he was done with opposition and he especially didn’t want to be questioned by his new Queen. Anne complained when Henry took a mistress in their first year of marriage, during her pregnancy. Henry told her to look away as Katherine had done or he would put her back were she came from. On another occasion Henry told Anne that if he had a chance to make the decisions regarding his marriage to her again, then he would not do it, in fact “as he had raised her up, he could cast her down again” . He even complained on another occasion that Katherine had never spoken to him as Anne often did. Yes, that must have endeared him to her, being compared to Katherine.

    I have said this before and personally I stand by it because I really believe it, despite the evidence of his behaviour, but the only wife, only woman Henry Viii really loved was Katherine of Aragon and Anne wasn’t the only wife he compared to her. That love faded after so many years and the bitter years of their annulment, but why did Katherine still get under his skin so much? He had loved her and would never have left her but for the fact he desired and needed male heirs. Katherine still knew how to annoy and rub him up the wrong way and when all three of them Anne, Katherine and Henry lived at Court, that’s exactly what Katherine did, he just couldn’t get the better of his wife whose reasoning was far superior to his own. Katherine continued to annoy him by her stubborn refusal to accept that she was no longer Queen and that made him cruel and angry. Henry’s response was to banish her and keep her daughter from her and reduce her attendants. She lived in relative luxury but some of the properties had damp and that affected her health, as did the separation from Mary who was only a teenager, those most delicate of years which shape the future of a young girl, and the whole experience combined to kill her. Yet, in the responses relayed between them by witnesses they still showed great passionate emotions because of the depth of their long loving relationship. Like Anne love probably turned to bitterness at some point although Katherine still loved Henry, or at least the idea of the man he had been. Maybe like many modern couples it was more a case of not being able to live with or without each other. How many times have you heard ex partners talk about sleeping with their ex wife or husband, even years afterwards, why, because they still have a spark between them? I seriously believe Henry carried a spark for Katherine and that she was his ideal wife and he judged other women by those standards. Not that Katherine didn’t argue with him, of course she did, but much of that was after Henry pursed for a divorce but before that Katherine knew when to accept his decision and let it go. That apparently was something Anne struggled with. On the other hand they were often merry together “more than any of his other wives” , which meant Anne and Henry clearly had a lot of fun for a couple of years and things didn’t collapse until after her final miscarriage. Even then it wasn’t a complete disaster and life went on as before, but with Anne being more vulnerable, her enemies were able to put in place a rival of their choosing and that’s how things began to unwind for Anne over the next five months.

    Henry’s reaction to his wife being charged with being unfaithful was hardly that of a devastated husband who had been wronged, even though his propaganda machine made it appear as if that was the case. Behind the scenes he was behaving like a bachelor. He was preparing for his next wedding and Jane was told to prepare for her wedding. Henry had removed her to her parents home for her reputation sake and to shield her from the terrible events to come which also suggests this was a planned set up, not just a set of unfortunate events. As you say, Christina, he was being entertained by the Seymour family and was out of the way, hunting, dancing and eating and drinking, having parties and had little care about the fate of his wife and courtiers. On the other hand he took an almost morbid interest in every detail of the preparations for their trials and potential executions, the payments for the executioners, the evidence being gathered, what his wife had said in the Tower, the reports of the progress of the investigation continued to be given to him daily and he had some control over what was going on through Cromwell. He even made certain Anne had money to give to the French executioner and sent for him well in advance, which might look suspicious but as he had to travel quite a way by horse maybe it was just a precaution. Henry withdrew from the horror of the unfolding events which has been highly criticised but then again he was a highly sensitive individual and his ability to cope with the reality he had set in motion wasn’t entirely stable. He shut that reality out and carried on as if nothing had changed, as if Anne and the others had ceased to exist and as if he had been free to remarry all along.

  10. Hi Bq I’m fine thank you and I trust you are to ? Our bosses funeral is the 11th May at 12.15 only close family allowed and no flowers, so we will be standing outside the funeral parlour and watch the hearse leave, I’m going into the shop Monday to arrange the window display and try to make it as beautiful as i can as a tribute to Paula, the cattery will not taking an messages or calls that day, it will be a day of complete silence, none of us still cannot believe that she’s gone and we’re thinking of having a collection amongst the shops volunteers to help pay towards her funeral and a memorial, or maybe buying a present for her daughter whose carrying twins, she was so very popular that her death has left a gaping hole in many peoples lives, her family really are distraught.

    1. That sounds very good tribute to your friend, Christine, Paula would approve I am sure, the little cats will be happy you are trying to carry on in her memory. It must be very difficult for all of you at this sad time. Please pass my love and thoughts to her daughter and grandchildren. A collection sounds lovely. I would like to contribute if I may. Is there something I can do to make a donation? Paula sounds as if she was a really beautiful person. This is a very difficult and sad time, but at least you can say goodbye. Remember to social distance, though, that’s still important. I feel so sad for you and your friends. Take care of yourself.

  11. I don’t know what to add one year on as the countdown to the execution of Anne Boleyn begins with the setting up of the legal proceedings against her and any potential Indictments brought against her.

    At this point nothing much really happened but Thomas Audley, the Lord Chancellor, who had tremendous power and could set up such a Commission without a royal warrant as an investigation tool, set up a Commission of Oyer and Terminer, to hear and determine, if high crimes had been committed in a particular county, in this case Kent and Middlesex. These Commissions investigated the issues of treason, misprison, felonies, murder and so on. Despite the fact that no arrests had been made or Indictments made suspicion was enough for these Commissions and in any case, this was different. Cromwell wanted the legal apparatus in place in case he had to act in a hurry which suggests that he anticipated whatever he had in mind to take shape quickly. He was being prepared and he would know that everything was set up ready for a formal investigation as soon as he made arrests.

    I don’t believe the gruesome twosome of Audley and Cromwell had merely gone ahead with such a dramatic step without the knowledge, order or permission of King Henry. He must have given them secret instructions and they would need paperwork from him in order to proceed. However, they could set up the Commission itself without any further orders. It was with the appointment of the juries that Henry will become more hands on but for now he was prepared to pretend it was business as usual and act as if nothing was going on. The investigation would begin in earnest with the arrest of Mark Smeaton, his damaging confession and the first slips of the tongue by anxious courtiers.

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