On this day in history, 15th May 1536, less than two weeks after their arrests, Queen Anne Boleyn and her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, were tried by a jury of their peers in the King’s Hall of the Tower of London. Their own uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, presided over the trial.

What happened at this trial and what was George Boleyn’s act of defiance?

Find out more in this talk:

And today’s normal “on this day” video is about two noblemen who ended up being implicated in the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion of 1536:

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21 thoughts on “The Fall of Anne Boleyn: Day -4”
  1. Firstly the Talking Tudors episode posted today is Owen Emerson on Anne and Hever Castle.
    Since the four other men were found guilty there was no way that Anne could be aquitted or given a lesser sentence. Anne should have been tried first. George possibly could have been found not guilty but I think even at the time he knew that wasn’t going to happen and felt free to read aloud the comments about Henry that he was instructed not to do.
    The outcome of these trials was a foregone conclusion. The verdicts and penalties were decided weeks ago. If Henry had just had Anne murdered we may just be seeing it today as an assassination. Rare to assassinate a queen but as disliked as Anne was it would be plausable. Maybe find a scapegoat to blame and execute and it would be over. But no, there had to be the investigations and trials to not only destroy Anne’s body but also her reputation because Henry was a petty, vindictive, selfish, tyrannical monster at this point. Really, in the long run because of his poor acting skills and extreme arrogance, thinking he was so much smarter than the general populace, is shine a light on this travesty, destroy his own reputation and revive Anne’s in the process.

    1. Something that always gets me when I read the account of the trial is the weeping of Thomas Howard. From what I’ve read of him he was a fine soldier, at least in his younger days but personality wise he strikes me as a weasel. Not an easy man to like or to get along with and didn’t treat his family all that well, particularly his wife. It also seems he would be more than willing to throw anyone under the bus if it would save his skin. I feel his weeping was crocodile tears or tears of fear that he may be implicated in this sham or tears of relief that he wasn’t but I do not believe he was weeping over his niece or for anyone but himself.

    2. Yes I agree Michael it was just a farce, the arrests the trial everything, the king wanted the world to know his wife got a proper trial tried by the peers of the realm but it was just a farce, as they were told to condemn her and her alleged lovers as you say, the verdicts were a foregone conclusion, the trial was merely a formality, it would have looked better for the king had he just smothered her in her bed.

      1. Sorry, but how does this one differ from any other Tudor trial? Almost all of them were farces, in the sense that evidence would be manipulated to secure the result the monarch wanted. Anne and George were actually lucky that they got trials … at least they had the chance to speak … which would be denied to people (like Cromwell) who were condemned by attainder.

        1. You maybe correct there Esther so called Tudor justice was merely a way of ridding the king of his enemies, or those he perceived to be his enemies, there was the case of Henry Howard Anne’s cousin whose trial was not very fair either, the king growing increasingly paranoid had him arrested for high treason just because he had the arms of Edward the Confessor quartered on his coat of arms, but they were displayed on the third quarter, hardly treason, he too was condemned just to satisfy the monarch yet he was allowed legally to display the arms as proof of his royal descent, most Tudor court trials were a farce.

  2. The trial of Queen Anne Boleyn was unprecedented, as was later her execution, she was accused of dreadful crimes and the worst of all, was plotting to kill the king her husband and sovereign lord, yet the crowns case was weak and just based on women’s gossip and hearsay, there were no witnesses and Anne had none for her defence, when she first arrived in the great hall heads must have all turned towards her and she was led to her chair of state where she sat down and faced her peers, ever stylish she wore a jaunty little hat with a feather in no matter what the occasion, she was determined to look her best, as the charges were read out she answered a firm no to all of them and was said, gave a good defence of herself, ever eloquent she was after all, a mistress of repartee she must have made the charges look inherently foolish, an observer at the trial said it was just all bawdy and lechery and the Lord Mayor who was also present, declared they had not proven anything against her, merely made an occasion to get rid of her, at the end the peers none of them friends of the queen, read out their guilty verdicts and then they came to Lord Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, already suffering from an illness which was to claim his life in just a year he mumbled out guilty, then collapsed possibly with nervous exhaustion or the shock at having to condemn her who he had once loved, there is a myth that Percy loved Anne till death yet he is reported as saying that he thought she was a bad woman, certainly she had made many enemies because she was the reason Henry had effectively split from Rome, she had ruined Queen Katherines life and that of her daughters, and over the years her arrogance and overbearing ways had not endeared people to her, but maybe he still remembered the girl he had fallen in love with, the starry eyed somewhat naive girl who had pledged herself to him, Percy had to be helped from the court room and all were silent as her uncle the a Duke of Norfolk read out the terrible verdict, either to be burnt on the green or have thy head smitten of, he had tears in his eyes as he read this out and Anne herself must have been frightened at the thought of being tied to the stake as the flames slowly devoured her body, but she was to be spared that final indignity, Anne then addressed the peers and the watching crowds, she had she said not always treated the king with the reverence she should have, she admitted to being jealous of him and then she said, she believed there were other reasons why she was thus condemned and those barbed words must have stung, they must have resonated with the people who had come to see her tried as all knew by now of their kings interest in Jane Seymour, she then spoke with regret of her co accused and it must have been a quiet and poignant scene, hushed and sombre, Anne was then led out back to her lodgings in the Tower, she had not expected justice and therefore she was not disappointed, she had made a good defence of herself, which only the innocent can have, now there was nothing left for her to do but pray for a merciful end, George Lord Rochford her younger brother was next, he too was as eloquent and as witty as his sister, he made such a good defence of himself that there were wagers he would be acquitted but the crown couldn’t have that, the part where he was handed the paper regarding the kings alleged impotency and he was told not to utter it aloud, he promptly did and by doing so thus condemned himself, but he knew he was condemned at the beginning and to show his utter contempt of this rigged trial, he shamed the king and the peers by speaking the forbidden words, his wife had told him the queen had said, the the king had neither skill nor vigour as a lover, there must have been gasps and chuckles in the court room and when the king heard of it, he was shocked beyond belief, Henry liked to think he was a great lover but now he was the object of tittle tattle, George was sentenced to the dreadful traitors death of disembowlment , called hanging drawing and quartering, the sentence was this dreadful to deter fellow offenders, however as we know like in Anne’s case he was to die by decapitation, after it was over he too was led back to his cell and tried to prepare himself for death, a hostile jury a nonsense trial had condemned himself his sister and four others, simply because the king wished to be free of his queen, these wretched prisoners cut of from their loved ones had only a few days left to live, whilst the man who held their lives in his hands carried on blithely with his coming nuptials.

  3. Today always gets me all emotional, the drama of this trial and the history it made, the public show trial of a Queen for her life and then we have George who turned the whole thing into his own show of contempt. The thing which always bugs me is the remarks by Henry in his letter to Jane Seymour, more or less telling her the Queen would be done by three in the afternoon. So Henry’s not so out of the picture, after all. A forgone conclusion, isn’t in it.

    Anne presented herself before the Court of the High Steward, presided over by her Uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, then his son, the Earl of Surrey and Charles, Duke of Suffolk. Other judges included Henry Courtney, the King’s cousin and a leading Catholic noble, the Earl of Oxford and the Earl of Northumberland. Anne really didn’t stand a chance but she made a good defence in any case, making good answers and clearly denied the false charges. Her words were eloquent and people looked as if they had some sympathy for her. No witnesses are recorded as being brought against her. The only thing she admitted to was giving Francis Weston some money, but then she gave a number of people money, it was called patronage and Kings and Queens rewarded or helped people in this way. I paid the milkman the other day, so obviously I am having an affair with him…not funny I know but it is the same preposterous implication as in this case. Anne’s dignity was kept throughout her brief trial and even that was remarked upon with her courage and honour. However, she was inevitably found guilty.

    Anne made an excellent speech in which she again denied everything but said she might have not shown the proper respect to Henry, that she had shown herself jealous when he loved others, that she criticised him, but she wasn’t unfaithful and she hoped to see the men condemned with her in Paradise. Her words were remarked for their grace and courage and their frankness. Many in the crowd seemed to favour her. However, it was to no avail and Anne was condemned to, unusually, be burned or beheaded at the King’s pleasure, instead of the normal sentence for a female traitor, to be burned alive. Anne had once found a prophecy that a Queen of England would be burned: a shiver must have gone down her spine.

    Her brother, George Boleyn was next to stand before his peers and he gave such a good defence that the audience started to take bets on his release and acquittal. Anne had been condemned in advance of adultery and treason with the other four men, but George wasn’t yet condemned. He was doing fine until he was handed a piece of paper with certain charges on it and told not to read it allowed. Well one might has well have ordered him to read it and whoever devised giving him this was a good judge of character. George was charismatic, reckless and high spirited: he did the exact opposite. He read out that the King wasn’t any good in bed, having neither the stamina or the skill to satisfy a woman, that he had joked at the King’s clothing and poetry and that Elizabeth wasn’t Henry’s child. This was in front of a public crowd of 2000 people and no doubt there were others outside. If George wasn’t already going to be found guilty by arrangements, one can bet he would have been now. What he did was foolish and reckless but he was also intelligent and knew he was going to be condemned: he had nothing to lose and if he did say Elizabeth wasn’t the King’s child, he insulted his reputation and his heir, both of which were treason. While I can believe he might repeat gossip or what Anne had confided to his wife, Jane, I doubt he ever impugned his niece’s legitimacy and Anne’s daughter, the royal heiress. Just because he read all of this out, it didn’t make it true. Of the sins he was accused off, conspiracy to kill the King and incest with his sister, George Boleyn denied and no he didn’t confess to them on the scaffold. He confessed to living a sinful life, he wasn’t specific and he was merely confessing to be a sinner as all people are sinners. George had worked out this was a show trial and he had no chance of being cleared so he had nothing left to lose by disobeying the Court and showing contempt and that by reading the paper out loud he was already condemned. He made a reckless choice but that was George Boleyn.

    The fact that Henry told Jane to be ready and that it would all be over by three p.m shows that even with the correct legal process, their right to trial before a jury of their peers in the Court of the High Steward, although the Queen might have had the right to appear before Parliament, showed that this whole thing was pre ordained. Henry knew it was a fix and he was obviously still well informed for all he was off playing with women and his sweetheart. For someone apparently detached from these proceedings, the King was remarkably up to date. Basically the trials were both fixed but at least the responses of the accused was on record and we know something of their defence and feelings. It was all over very quickly. Within the space of just a few hours Anne and her brother, innocent though they were, were condemned to the horrors of a traitors death. All they could now do was to wait, pray for a quicker death or mercy and prepare to die.

  4. Something we mustn’t forget that adds a lot of weight to our comments about this being a sham and the execution of Anne being a foregone conclusion is Henry’s request for an executioner from France before her trial. How early did he make that request?

    1. That’s a good point and you are correct, he was sent for very early on, though because it would have taken him time to arrive and he was delayed anyway because his horse got a broken shoe. It could merely have been protocol to send for such a specialist executioner well in advance, but given he was to be employed to behead the Queen alone, in this case I would agree it was suspicious. He was also very expensive. I believe his fee was £20.00.

      1. I just looked up £20 in 1530 ( converter is in 10yr increments. In 2017 that would have been £8,825. I think we can agree Henry didn’t hire the headsman on a ‘just in case’ basis.

        1. That is so interesting so Henry V111 paid over £8000 in today’s currency to behead his wife, just shows how much he wanted her gone.

  5. Yes the swordsman was ordered before the trial as you both mention so it just also goes to show that right from the beginning the king had wanted her dead, but here is something all the more sinister, there is an idea that Anne was coerced into agreeing her marriage was invalid in exchange for life, maybe retirement into a nunnery, and this makes the drama look all the more revolting because she must have been offered something like this to agree in the first place, If so Henry V111 appears even more diabolical if she was given the hope of life when all the time the swordsman from Calais was travelling through France to behead her.

      1. I believe it’s theoretical, but there are documented events that could be interpreted as that being the case.

  6. Unfortunately, there may possibly be something in this. We don’t know for certain, but its often the subject of popular drama, but Anne appeared to believe she would be sent to a convent and was “in the hope of life” when Cranmer came to visit her and tell her her marriage was over on 17th May. The letter to Cromwell says that she was found to be very much in the hope of being spared, which is at least suggestive that her consent was obtained under false pretences. Was she told she would not die or was she merely being hopeful because her status should have protected her. She was the first Queen in England to die for treason or adultery, although one or two European Princesses had died or been known to die in mysterious circumstances afterwards. Maria of Brahnant was executed by her mad husband, Louis of Bavaria when he believed she had slept with a court official in the early thirteenth century after two years of marriage. The evidence against her was dubious as well and he later did penance. She was a young woman in her early twenties. Normally, however, the worst Anne might have expected was a forced veiling or prison. Even Richard iii refused the Attainder against Margaret Beaufort and put her under house arrest under the control of her husband, Lord Stanley and she also lost her property, but she was an important noble woman. However, Anne was in much better spirits than she had been and the theory of her being bribed with a promise of life is a reasonable one. If it’s true, it’s even more cruel and cold and pushing the boundaries of what was decent even by Henry’s standards. Cranmer confirmed that Anne after his visit on the 16th to get her consent to the reasons for her marriage annulled that she was in much better spirits and as I said, was hoping to be sent to the religious life. Had he been authorised to use deception in order to get that consent? We just don’t know but it seems likely. Her marriage was ended on 17th May at Lambeth Palace in the presence of Audley, Suffolk and others and worded so as the good faith of the parents of Elizabeth could not make her legitimate. It was a cruel deception and Henry was now free to move on with his new and only lawful wife and to live as if he were marrying for the first time.

  7. That’s right, after Cranmer had left her, she sat down to her meal and was chatting away to her ladies about hoping to go into a nunnery, it was obvious Cranmer had put this idea into her head, Henry probably told him to tell her anything, bribe her with anything to get her to agree to the annulment, it was as we say, a cruel deception and not worthy of a king, but then Henry V111 in the case of his second queen acted in a most contemptuous and abhorrent manner.

  8. This is an interesting conversation you are having: made me recall a book by David Starkey, “The reign of Henry VIII, Personalities & Politics” (one of the first Tudor type books I read) and it has rather stuck with me. He discussed the king’s personality, noting – ‘Henry was Wolsey’s “loving master”; Henry Norris was “the best beloved of the king”; Anne Boleyn “mine own darling”. Here again, the enthusiasm burned out, but destructively. Like a child grown tired of a toy, the King broke each sometime beloved in pieces: Wolsey was hounded to death; Norris and Anne were executed. And they were but three of many.’
    Starkey goes on to mention Henry’s ‘fluctuating enthusiasms and bewildering changes, his disinclination to business and devotion to pleasure’ against which a courtier must take his chance. But, and this is the point, he says,” Maybe indeed Henry was an almost human Shiva, the Lord of the Dance, who ‘took all the decisions’ and made and unmade at his absolute will. But I doubt it. Just as his behaviour provoked intrigue, so surely did intrigue affect his behaviour. Contemporaries thought that it did and acted as though it did. We would be wise to follow them.’
    This now is the bit that will interest Esther and Michael. Starkey continues: “So Henry’s personality shaped a politics of intrigue, even manipulation. But not in a vacuum. ….there were institutions of government and a system of law that were both old and deeply-entrenched. For instance, Henry could not simply say, like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, ‘off with his head!’ Instead the accused had to be condemned by due process of law. Trials of course were rigged. But rigging took much effort and could go embarrassingly wrong. All this ruled out autocracy, even for a King as self-willed as Henry.”
    Of course, Cromwell went some way to side-step this weighty institutional ‘process’ with his Act of Attainder: by which he himself fell. I’d really recommend a quick gallop through this slim book of Starkey’s, if you can find the time.

    1. If there was a nodding emoji and this blog allowed them I am nodding in complete agreement. Great analysis, Globerose, capturing the whole thing wonderfully. Great book recommendation.

    2. Hi Christine. Guess Henry figured if he’s spending so much money on chopping off Anne’s head he could afford to call her bad names.

  9. Thanks – praise indeed from the Queen! Wish I knew the answer to Michael’s query – when was the swordsman sent for? Starkey thinks that Cromwell ‘took over the conservative plot’ against Anne and brought it to a conclusion which would best suit him: Henry found the combined assault of the Cromwell and conservative factions ‘irresistible’ and gave in on the night of St. George’s day, 23rd April 1536. This is his view and I wonder if our executioner had sufficient time? What do you think?

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