On this day in history, 16th May 1536, the day after her trial, Queen Anne Boleyn was visited by her good friend, Archbishop Cranmer. Following his visit, the queen was suddenly optimistic about her fate and seemed to think she might receive mercy.

What on earth was going on?

Find out more in this talk:

And today’s normal “on this day” video is about Tudor navigator William Adams, the first Englishman to have reached Japan, and the inspiration for the character of John Blackthorne in the famous novel Shōgun.

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.

If you prefer reading, then this website has thousands of articles, including one on 16 May 1536.

Related Post

22 thoughts on “The Fall of Anne Boleyn: Day -3”
  1. I’m sure the very traits that Anne had and what made Henry fall in love with her was her undoing in the end. She obviously was a breath of fresh air, could match Henry’s intelligence but, a big but, in the end A) she didn’t produce a son B) Henry’s mood swings were going against her. She was too outspoken, wasn’t as submissive as Katherine and in the end, he got tired of her.

  2. If Cranmer did lie to Anne about life for anullment permission there is no way that he would have known it was a lie. Cromwell and Henry we’re certainly capable of doing such a horrible thing. If true Cranmer would have been devastated after Anne’s murder and it does seem it really affected him.

  3. I think you may be correct in your inference that Cranmer had been misled to think an annulment and retirement to a nunnery might be possible. Cranmer was a decent man. He had known all these people for years. I can understand him — and Anne — being open to the idea that it was all just a trial of loyalty to the king. There are stories in the Bible of God trying people. There are similar folk tales of kings doing the same. So the idea that the king was likely to send a pardon at the last minute if his subjects were sufficiently humble and obedient was part of the mind-furniture of these people. As for the letters about settling debts, etc., they seem to me part of the business of putting one’s affairs in order, similar to making a will. Once one’s worldly affairs are in order one can turn one’s thoughts to eternity. I find it relevant that while forgiveness is asked of God, parent, child, and wife, there is no mention of having offended against the king. Perhaps it was a subtle way of saying “I am innocent.”

    1. I completely agree in your assessment of Thomas Cranmer. He had his faults, certainly just like the rest of us but overall he was a good, decent man and Anne was his friend and he would not have been so cruel as to get her hopes up knowing they were lies.
      When you read his letter to Henry offering his condolences to the king after he found out about Anne’s arrest you can tell in the subtle wording that it is an inquiry and he is hoping Henry will offer an explanation as to what happened but of course he doesn’t.

      1. Thomas Cranmer was the only one who stood up for Anne and that is to his credit, but we can read in his carefully worded letter that he did not wish to anger the king, but he had to say something in her defence, he was ‘clean amazed‘ he wrote, for he ‘never had better opinion of woman than he had of her‘, and that is why those who knew Anne, those who were in her set of friends, those in her household, as well as her servants could not have believed the charges against her, she was known for a well ordered household, she was known for her piety and charitable works, in fact one contemporary wrote that the queens household was never run as well as when Anne Boleyn was queen, yet she was made out to be a vile sexual predator who resided over a corrupt household, no one could have believed it, and this is where Henry V111 and Cromwell really misjudged the court as well as the common people, there were grumblings over her treatment and the king did not help matters by seeing her lady in waiting Jane Seymour, rumours spread and it was known he was courting another, a derisory ballad was circulating through the city about the king and Jane, the king was angry and wrote to Jane telling her when he catches who ever wrote it, he would be sorely punished, as Eric Ives wrote, ‘there is some satisfaction in the fact that the perpetrator never was’.

  4. This is what discussed yesterday about Anne hoping to get a pardon and retire to a nunnery, for centuries abandoned and divorced or shamed queens would go to a nunnery and live out their lives there, devoting themselves to good works, Anne must have bulked at the idea but the alternative was death, I to don’t think that Cranmer was not aware of the kings desire for Anne’s death, he must have been deceived as well, on her death he wept saying she who was queen on earth is now queen in heaven, he too must have believed that she would be pardoned, but to so deceive a woman that way is diabolically cruel and unworthy of a king, Henry V111 through all this sham treated his second queen with cruel indifference, meanwhile poor George her brother was stressed over his many debts he had incurred so much so that Kingston wrote to Cromwell to see if he could help him, I too like Claire find it very sad that with just a few days to live George was worried about his debts, it seems young men at court did incur debts as gambling was one of the pastimes of the rich, Anne herself loved to play at cards and she was fortunate she won quite a lot, her brother in law William Carey was a gambler who left heavy debts when he died of the sweat, playing cards betting and gambling was something they all did, Sir Francis Weston wrote a sad little letter to his wife and parents he was only about twenty one and would never see his sons grow up, Norris to had children, he had been planning a future with Anne’s cousin Madge Shelton to whom he was engaged, one of his sons did well at the court of Queen Elizabeth 1st who favoured him, possibly out of the reverence she bore his father for defending her mother. all these men had only another day to live, innocent scapegoats cruelly caught up in the heinous plot to rid a king of his queen, we cannot even imagine how they must have felt, only their innocence and the belief of an afterlife must have sustained them in their final hours.

    1. I really do hope that all of the family members and friends of the five condemned men knew that every word and accusation against them was a flat out lie and didn’t have any doubts about their innocence.

      1. I’m sure they did, Westons wife wore a piece of jewellery he had given her till her death and Lady Rochford must have believed in her husbands innocence, she had written him a note telling him she would petition the king on his behalf, proof that she was not the vindictive wife of legend and that she believed in his innocence, the family of Norris and Brereton must also have believed in them, we have no knowledge of Smeatons family but they were probably poor people and may not even have been alive when Smeaton was executed, Westons family tried desperately to save him by putting up a huge ransom but it did no good, Henry probably could not be seen to let one man go and not the others, Brereton was the least likely one out of all of them, he was not young being around fifty, and was not in the queens intimate circle of friends which included the others, it seems Cromwell picked him purely for political reasons, he had dealings in Wales which was said to irk Henry’s minister, his servant later said of him, ‘if any of the men were innocent it was he‘, Cromwell must have chosen these men carefully, it is not known however if Smeaton implicated them but Anne certainly in her ramblings mentioned Weston, whilst in the Tower and after that he was duly arrested, Norris was implicated because Anne again unwittingly had that disastrous conversation with him about the kings death, her poor choice of words certainly led to his arrest and imprisonment, it also possibly gave Cromwell the idea about the plotting to kill the king charge, though strangely enough this conversation was not mentioned at Anne’s trial, maybe Cromwell thought it was not necessary to mention all the details, it must have been Cromwell also who thought of the incest charge as his idea was to paint the queen as black as possible, one cannot see Smeaton accusing the queen and George of incest, why would such an idea cross his mind, no it must have been Cromwell who decided to throw that in for good measure, the idea was to paint Anne as so vile that the king would garner sympathy not contempt or ridicule, but as mentioned, not many at court believed Anne was guilty and as for the rest of the world, as he searched for a wife several years later his reputation preceded him, there were few women willing to share Henry’s V111’s bed and board after he had had his second queen decapitated.

        1. Whether it was true or not, a couple of Princesses from abroad when approached regarding marrying Henry VIII, they were reputed to say, “only if I have two heads”.

        2. When the time finally came for Henry and Cromwell to meet their maker they had a lot to answer for

  5. Hi BQ. Just wanted to let you know I finally bought Heather Darsie’s book on Anna of Cleve’s.

  6. Hi Sarah. I knoew Christina of Denmark was one. Wise young woman. I think the king and/or Cromwell had a pretty good idea of the reaction of the rest of Europe to Anne’s execution because her death date was postponed in order to remove the ‘foreigners’. Ambassadors, etc from seeing and reporting on it.

    1. Yes it was Christina the Duchess of Milan, she said if she had two heads one would be at his majesty’s disposal, and Marie de Guise said she maybe a big woman but she had a little neck, wether Henry heard of these comments we do not know, I should imagine his ambassadors would not relish the idea of carrying such messages back to him, really though what did he expect, what woman would want to marry a man who had beheaded his wife, and then there was his treatment of his first queen, she was banished from court, and separated from her daughter, one of the places she lived in was considered not very hospitable at all, much less for a queen who had been used to luxury her whole life!

  7. Yes, we were discussing this yesterday, because Anne had clearly been deceived into thinking she was going to be taken to a convent, instead of dying and had consented to the annulment accordingly. She was speaking to William Kingston that night at dinner of just that and told Archbishop Cranmer that she was in hope of life. I believe Cranmer knew exactly what he was doing because he was sent their by the King and Convocation, which ratified the annulment the next day. Yes, of course Cranmer had supported Anne, he would continue to support her cause and his letter to the King hinted at the fact he was shocked and astonished at the charges brought against Anne and hoped she would clear herself. But now he had a duty to perform, reluctantly, but he had his orders. Cranmer was beyond deception. He hid his true beliefs and his illegal marriage and he conformed to whatever Henry said was the latest version of Christian faith and enforced, reluctantly the Six Articles. He hated to do so, but he only came into his own under Edward. Cranmer was a pragmatist. The ironic thing was, Henry knew all of that and overlooked it because of Cranmer’s services during his marital problems. I am sure he was very comforting, listened to her confession, which of course didn’t change his opinion of Anne, as the article says and knew she was Queen in heaven afterwards. Anne was in good spirits but it was a false hope and I believe that within 24 hours she knew she had to prepare for death. Cranmer gave her temporary hope but he knew the terrible truth, he deceived Anne for the right and wrong reasons, but the King had sent him to her, so his duty was to Henry first. Yes, Anne was more than likely promised that she might be allowed to retire to the religious life if she agreed to the annulment or maybe she was told Elizabeth would be safer if she agreed, we don’t know, but most certainly she was given hope and did consent. Cranmer knew how things were, that the five men had been condemned, as had the Queen, that Henry was capable of ruthlessness, that he was as much the King’s servant as a servant of the Church and he knew he had a job to do, unpleasant as it was. He must have been as gentle as possible but he still had to tell Anne the truth, well at least a version of it, a cruel reality, her marriage was not valid, her daughter no longer legitimate. The underlying terrible truth he hid from her was that she was still going to die.

    I believe this was one of the worst moments of Thomas Cranmer’s life, having to deceive a woman to whom he owed so much, to one he was beholden and who supported the same cause of reformation and promoting the Gospel. However, his choices were limited and he had another duty, to the King and this time, that came first. Henry had made his plans and Cranmer had helped him to marry Anne, now he was the one to reverse that decision. There is some confusion over what reasons were given for the annulment, because the documents don’t give one specific reason. However, one source tells us it was the contract with Harry Percy, now Earl of Northumberland, who had actually refused to play ball when Cromwell asked him to admit he was betrothed to Anne Boleyn and another says it was because Henry had a sexual relationship with her sister, Mary Boleyn, and thus committed incest by marrying her. Most historians believe it was the latter and so do I. The Queen’s execution would have left Henry with a legitimate daughter, in Elizabeth, a rival for his future children with Jane Seymour, but he wanted no uncertainty about this new marriage and so this annulment made Elizabeth a bastard. She was now the same status as Mary and in July 1536 Parliament confirmed both of Henry’s daughters were illegitimate. Anne must have been secretly devastated, despite her high spirits, and it was a cruel deception on the part of her husband and her friend.

    1. I have heard that the possible cause for the annulment was because of Henry’s relationship with Anne’s sister, I don’t see how they could use her betrothal with Percy as a reason since he refused to go back on his word and admit there had been a betrothal after all, I think this was the time someone asked him if he had slept with Lady Elizabeth Boleyn and he replied ‘never with the mother’, it was a cruel deception but Henry V111 by now growing ever more cruel, possibly caused in part by the serious head injury he had incurred since January, did not care and he must have told himself how evil she was and she deserved death, he said he believed she had slept with upto a hundred men, even though he knew a queen was rarely alone and it would have been well nigh impossible to bed hop around the amount of times Anne was supposed to have done, deep down he must have known she was innocent but it was expedient for him to believe otherwise as he wanted her out of his life, I agree Anne must have been devastated, she would never see her daughter crown queen, the stigma of bastards was a terrible thing, more so when you were born legitimate and your fathers heir, Anne had waited so long to be queen, then she was and crowned and anointed it was a great honour, her daughter was the kings legitimate heir and to have all that taken away must have been soul destroying but Katherine had also endured that hardship, and her daughter, now maybe Anne could sympathise with Katherine and Mary, she was the discarded queen and Elizabeth like Mary was a bastard, Anne knew Henry intended to replace her with Jane Seymour and she must have wept bitter tears of self pity, but years later with only one son to show for six marriages, Henry V111 made his will and put both daughters back in the succession, but they were still illegitimate nothing could hinder his sons legal status as his one true heir.

    2. I agree that had Cranmer been told his mission was a deception he would have reluctantly done his duty but I suspect he wasn’t. The king and Cromwell had to know he was at least a bit of a supporter of Anne and would have realized how much more convincing he would be if he believed it himself. Remember, we’re talking about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII and during this whole horrible affair deceit is part of their modus operandi.

      1. We have to remember as well that we really don’t know if this happened, but Anne had the idea that she was going to be spared, possibly go to a nunnery, and no for everyone out there, they had not all been closed and the first legislation only closed the smaller houses, so she could have gone to one and expect to remain there ; Anne was expecting to go to one, she was still expecting it after Cranmer left. Why? That to me indicates that the idea was set in her mind, because I doubt anyone that intelligent could lose all sense of reality and live in cloud cookoo land. I don’t just think Anne was using wishful thinking, she actually believed she was being spared but then again she had good reason to think it because no Queen had been killed in England. As I explained in an earlier post it was very rare for women of high status to die for treason and adultery wasn’t yet a crime. Anne might expect imprisonment or forced banishment in a convent, not unreasonable even from Henry, but the King had other ideas. We are only of course guessing that Cramner either agreed with her own suggestions that she might be sent to a convent or in fact told her so, partly to comfort her, partly to gain her cooperation in the inevitable annulment of her marriage. Personally, I believe he was a man of integrity and he believed what he told Anne. If he gave Anne the impression she would be saved, his body language agreed with her own suggestions, he simply didn’t contradict her, thus leaving her to believe as she wished. If he went there to get her cooperation, he was already under the impression himself she may be spared, not necessarily would but it was possible, he had been given that impression by Henry. I understand why people might think he said it himself just to be kind, not knowing he was deceiving Anne, but I doubt it. Cranmer was capable of “getting the job done” just as capable as any hard nosed Tudor politician . He was also capable of great compassion and tried to show it even in the most difficult of circumstances, with the interrogation of Kathryn Howard for example, but he was also the King’s man: he did as he was bid. Whether Cranmer knew he was deceiving Anne or not, he did as he was told. We can’t really know either way, but we do know that Anne believed it, regardless of the source, hours after Cranmer left. Regardless of Henry’s orders, regardless of Cranmer’s mission, regardless of if he believed this was a deception, Anne was convinced and her mind was almost set upon it. Of course, it could all be in her own mind, but I believe her hope was genuine, had been at least cultivated by Cranmer and that night at Super, it wasn’t contradicted by Kingston, who was definitely working for Cromwell and the King. The poor woman, allowed to live in hope, then suddenly told she is to die the next day. Anne then became delusional, thinking it was all a test: that I find both cruel and sad. Maybe the truth would have been better from the start.

  8. Meanwhile, as Anne was being deceived into agreeing to an annulment, the five innocent men condemned with her, prepared for death. I can’t even begin to imagine how someone prepares to face execution. Innocent or guilty, preparing for what will be a violent and possibly a very painful death, because at this point they didn’t know they would merely be beheaded and they were to die in public, before a howling, booing, loud, obnoxious mob; would have been terrifying. The members of the Council had to witness their execution, some of them had been at their trial, they knew them, they had known them for years and had worked closely with them, friends or enemies, watching them die would not be easy. The Tudors were used to executions, so many crimes carried the death penalty, including certain types of theft, minting fake coins and it was a form of entertainment; yet, it wasn’t easy to watch. Preparing for that moment was daunting, worrying and traumatic, not only the physical pain and experience, but preparation for Eternity was overwhelming.

    First all five men confessed to a priest and prepared their souls and now we have personal and touching details, concern for friends, asking forgiveness of loved ones and a wife and arranging the payment of debts and concern for who would settle those debts, all very normal but certainly part of preparing for their end. The letter from Francis Weston is very touching and we are lucky it has survived. In fact his parents offered Henry a great deal of money as ransom for their son, but it was refused. George was particularly worried about his debts as he owed money to the King and the others found themselves owing money to Henry posthumously as he took over their debts and their families would owe the King that money. Anne herself made a similar list, including payments for clothes for Elizabeth delivered in April. It may all seem very domestic and mundane but they were shredding their earthly coil and they had deep concerns, the payment of debts was a matter of honour and this put their families at risk. Henry might retaliate if they didn’t pay them on demand, another worry for their loved ones. The deep concern of these innocent people is clear to see, reaching out to loved ones, looking for comfort and hoping everything would be settled and they might have some peace.

    Weston was also confessing his sins as all sinners must to prepare for Eternity and George Boleyn was very worried about those who may be ruined by his debts. He sought consolation and made his peace with God. That was also how they would have spent their last night, in prayer and discharging their conscience. Still to know what they faced in the morning must have been frightening and traumatic. Fortunately they would be granted the quicker death of decapitation, even Mark Smeaton, who wasn’t a gentleman, but whose confession had granted him that small mercy. They could only now prepare their souls for the next life and pray for courage as they faced their end and the words which would be their last.

  9. I understand that it may not have happened but I also think Henry/Cromwell would want to make it go as smoothly as possible so may not have informed Cranmer of the deception if it did happen.
    As intelligent as Anne was she was also human. Thankfully none of us have been under the stress that she was after being condemned to death and possibly facing burning. I think it is quite possible that under the circumstances she may have deluded herself as a coping mechanism, convincing herself that the man who once loved her would at least spare her life. If she did make that up in her own mind it does not reflect poorly on her. She was human.

    1. I agree, this was a fragile human moment for Anne Boleyn. The terror and stress she experienced during those nineteen days are beyond any understanding. She faced a terrifying death by burning if she wasn’t a Queen, but she must have feared death anyway. From the moment of her arrest she was under more stress than she could cope with, the unknown, the terror of being imprisoned, she practically collapsed when she arrived at the Tower, such was her fear and overwhelming fear. Anne had wondered if she was going to a dungeon, she had women attending her who had no love for her, she was roughly handled, she began to babble and babble, she was very confused, she couldn’t make any sense of any of this. It’s only natural that Anne would have clung to any hope, clutching at any straws, especially any hope of life still possible after her trial. I completely agree, her humanity would be so exposed here, under a death sentence, maybe she was still thinking her husband could be persuaded to mercy. That wasn’t an unrealistic thought either because as we have said, no Queen or woman of very high status had been executed on capital charges in England. Yes, Anne had seen the changes in Henry, close up and personal, was aware of his anger and dangerous nature and even his growing unpredictable personality, but she also knew the man who had loved her for so many years. Maybe it was that man that Anne chose to remember and hoped would spare her for the sake of everything they had once had between them. It is yes, very possible that Anne became delusional and really did think she was going to be sent to a convent, possibly to the hope of life because she was given to believe it by someone she trusted, maybe she was so fragile that it was all she could do to cling to that one small hope of life. These days, these precious glimpses into the last days of this desperately frightened woman, are so moving, so human, we cannot help but be there with her.

      1. Not only Annes fragility could have played into it but no one, neither she nor us can fathom Henry’s actions during this. A normal, rational , empathetic human being does not act like he did or think like he did. I’ve never come across anyone else like him thank heavens. He seems to be such an anomaly. (I think part of that is because he was also a king) but so rare that Anne could not fathom him taking her life when she knew she was innocent. She may very well have been thinking that this whole mess was started by someone else and Henry would clear it up much as Mary assumed that Anne was the reason for her abuses and all would be well after Anne was gone. As we know now Henry was the main instigator in both cases.
        A rather rhetorical exercise that would be interesting but absolutely impossible would be to interview all six of those executed and tell them the whole story with everything we’ve learned since as to why they had to die, explaining Henry’s actions/reactions etc. I think it would be interesting because they knew Henry well and would probably be shocked. The sad fact is, though they were the victims they probably knew the least about what was happening and why.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *