The Incest Question by Clare Cherry

Posted By on March 15, 2013

Today we have a guest article from Clare Cherry who has been researching the Boleyns, in particular George Boleyn, for many years. Thanks Clare!

Why do so many people still accept the incest allegation against Anne and George Boleyn as being true? Come to that, why do so many people believe the other allegations against Anne, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary? Anne was charged with adultery with a man she barely knew, a servant she probably wouldn’t have touched with an over-sized jousting pole, one of the King’s best friends who was married, and a youth who was good at tennis. The indictment doesn’t even make sense in that on all but two of the dates Anne was supposed to have committed adultery either she was somewhere else or the man was. Perhaps it was adultery by proxy!

Here I’m just dealing with the supposed incest and the reasons why it is still believed to be true. What you do read quite often are comments that there were rumours about Anne and George and their inappropriate relationship during their lifetime. It is assumed that there must have been rumours which resulted in the eventual charge. But the recurring suggestion that there were rumours about the siblings relationship during their lives is a myth. There were no rumours. Not one shred of evidence has come down to us to suggest that anyone believed that had an ‘unnatural relationship’.

They were very close, of that there is no doubt. To her he was her beloved, ‘sweet brother’. They shared the same interests, the same fierce intelligence and the same religious views. Likewise, he adored his sister, which is strongly exemplified by his dedication to her prefixing a translation he undertook for her where he describes himself as her, ‘Most loving and friendly brother’ who ‘sendeth greetings’. He talks of the perpetual bond of blood between them which binds him to her. It is very beautiful, and it shows the depth of affection between them. But being close to your sister does not mean you are having a sexual relationship with her, and at no time was it hinted at by anyone that their relationship was anything other than a close sibling bond.

The only modern historian who suggests Anne may have been guilty is G W Bernard in his book, ‘Fatal Attractions’. In it he attempts to argue that Anne was guilty of adultery with Norris and Smeaton, and possibly Weston. He provides very little evidence for proving anything against her, and his thesis seems more of a ‘what if’, although that is merely my opinion. Despite the headlines in various newspapers he does not try and argue that Anne committed incest with her brother. He says that George was found guilty because the jury believed he was a man capable of committing incest, not that he actually had. He suggests this due to George’s supposed reputation as a womaniser and because he read aloud the allegation that Anne had informed his wife of Henry’s impotency. Of course, Bernard also argues that by finding Anne, George and the rest guilty, the jury actually believed they were guilty. I admire Bernard’s trust in human nature, but I don’t think that a guilty verdict was arrived at because of a belief in guilt. Did Thomas Boleyn believe his daughter had committed adultery with four courtiers when he found those four courtiers guilty of adultery with her? I don’t believe so.

So why was George charged with incest when there had been no rumours leading up to his arrest? Step forward Lady Jane Rochford. She provided the damning evidence which sent her husband and sister-in-law to the scaffold and admitted that she had lied about the siblings at her own execution less than six years later; or so many, including some writers of non-fiction, would have us believe. But the scaffold speech of Lady Rochford is a myth, and there is no evidence that she provided the prosecution with the accusation of incest which sent her husband to his death.

There was a charge of incest so surely there must be evidence. That is what we like to think today, because the alternative is to accept that an innocent woman and five innocent men went to their deaths on someone’s whim; be that Cromwell’s, Henry VIII’s or a combination of the two. We can’t imagine a situation where someone can be charged out of the blue with a crime, without evidence to back it up, and that those people would be put to death. So we do our level best to find something to give a reason why the miscarriage of justice took place. It’s human nature to try and make sense of what we can’t comprehend. We try to impose logic where logic may not actually exist. Hence there must have been rumours about Anne and George. But there weren’t. Someone must have given damning evidence which proved guilt. But no one did.

It is argued that there was more evidence against Anne but that it has been lost. I cannot agree. All we have is hearsay and vague references. If there had been real evidence of wrongdoing it would have been shouted from the rooftops, not hidden away. Somehow, somewhere and from someone we would know about it. Any real evidence would have come down to us, but all we have is innuendo.

Chapuys says George was convicted merely on a presumption because on one occasion he had spent a long time alone with Anne. No witnesses were called, so Chapuys says. But surely that’s unbelievable. There has to be more to it than that. How could Henry VIII possibly believe such a thing unless there was hard evidence? That is of course always assuming Henry did believe it. I don’t accept that he did, but irrespective of that there are other reasons for such a charge to be brought. It blackened Anne’s name even further and it got rid of a powerful and influential courtier who would surely have fought to save his sister. Anne and George were accused of laughing behind Henry’s back at his clothes, poetry etc. Whether or not they did is immaterial. If Henry thought they did, then they were dead the moment the allegation came to Henry’s ears. George’s death, and the charges raised against him, may have been little more than spite and malice.

Yet despite the lack of evidence, the myth relating to supposed rumours and the myth that Lady Rochford gave damning evidence of incest, still exists, and there are still those who believe in the myths and who believe the siblings were guilty. I suppose it’s possible they were guilty in the same way that anything is possible, but being possible doesn’t make it probable. A lot of the questions relating to Anne and George’s supposed guilt stem from a book published in 2001 entitled ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’. In it there is a strong inference that the siblings committed incest in order to conceive a child. The deformed monster foetus is later burned in the fire. The author has said in interviews that if Anne were desperate for a child then her brother ‘would be the obvious choice’. I’m not quite sure that would be the obvious choice for many of us, or for two such religious people as Anne and George Boleyn, but there you are. What the book did do is give credence to the possibility that the allegation was true. It planted the seed in the minds of many people who hadn’t previously given it much thought. It raised endless questions.

Then came Mantel’s, ‘Bring up the Bodies’, which insinuated a possible truth in the allegations against Anne, including the charge of incest. In interviews Mantel points out that Anne and George Boleyn were not brought up together and that there could, therefore, easily have been a sexual attraction between them which may have been acted on. That is ignoring the morality of the act, in the knowledge they were brother and sister. But then again the Anne and George Boleyn of Mantel’s fiction can easily be reconciled with people who wouldn’t let morality get in the way of a little incest.

These fictional accounts, and the authors’ comments, have muddied the waters. They have made possible what the majority of historians have been disputing for decades. They have blurred the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction and made a cruel plot believable to many people. The myth is perpetuated, and now the Boleyn siblings are having to declare their innocence against a charge which would have caused shame and horror to both of them yet again, nearly five-hundred years after they first had to, this time through people who care about them and who care about justice for them.

There will always be those who accept in their totality the charges brought against Anne and her co-accused, and think of Anne as an adulteress and whore. They are entitled to their opinion and I’m not suggesting that everyone who believes her guilty has read too much fiction and not enough fact. But I would be interested to hear if there are those who believe the incest allegation and who can actually point to hard facts to suggest why they believe it, rather than vague innuendo and myth. It may just be a matter of people believing what they want to believe, or at least accepting it. After all, isn’t that exactly what happened in 1536.

63 thoughts on “The Incest Question by Clare Cherry”

  1. Mariette says:

    Thanks Clare, for a well-written and thought-provoking article. It’s difficult to comprehend why so many people are too often prepared to believe the worst about historical figures.

  2. Vermillion says:

    Interesting piece. Although I’m not yet convinced that anyone has yet come up with an interpretation of Anne’s fall that gives the definitive picture of what actually happened, the accusation of incest against George Boleyn lends credence in my mind to Ives’ ‘political faction’ interpretation. Given that George was a political player and was close to his sister, it would be important that he too was drawn into the web of accusations against Anne to clear him out of the way at the same time as her. As to whether there might be any foundation to the charge, I suspect it was just a convenient accusation that served the duel purpose of involving him directly in the charges and of blackening Anne’s name yet further due to the sensational nature of the supposed crime. If even G.W. Bernard, who in his book is prepared to stretch the limits of possibility relating to the charges against Anne to breaking point in other respects, can’t quite bring himself to support the accusation of incest, then I think that says it all.

    The endurance of the myth surrounding the charge is, as you say, chiefly due to writers like Philippa Gregory using it in their works of fiction and claimning that they are based on fact and their research of original sources. Gregory in particular has continued to claim that it’s possible that George and Anne committed incest, although naturally she never manages to back this assertion up with anything. This is a very disingenuous argument – it’s a bit like saying anyone could have done anything in the past because it all happened a long time ago and very little is recorded about what happened, so it’s not impossible. I don’t see how you can claim something ‘probably’ happened simply because of a lack of evidence that it didn’t happen – on that basis, one could make the same accusation of incest about any historical figure!

    The only point about Clare’s article that I might disagree with slightly is the potential role of Lady Rochford in Anne’s fall. Whilst the traditional interpretation of her providing evidence to damn Anne and George may not have much solid foundation, I didn’t find Julia Fox’s attempt to exonerate Lady Rochford in her book of pretty much all involvement at all convincing. I might be being a bit harsh on Lady Rochford, but the support given to her by Cromwell after Anne’s fall, the level of her involvement in the Katherine Howard affair, the fact that as the wife of George she would have been the ideal ‘reliable’ witness to make the charge… It’s all circumstantial, but taken together it does leave a question mark in my mind over whether she was involved, at least to some extent.

    1. Esther says:

      IThere is a big difference between what Lady Rochford may have said (when questioned by Cromwell) and the use made by Cromwell of her statements. For example, the first accusation against Anne was not made by Jane Boleyn. When questioned, Jane may have said that Anne and George spent time together alone … which (IMO) is not an accusation of incest. However, Cromwell would present to the jury Jane’s statements — according to an old legal history class that I took many years ago, the “evidence” would have been presented through signed statements, not through live witnesses — rather than those of the original accuser, because the words of the wife would have been more damning than those of someone else.

    2. Jillian says:

      It is difficult to believe that the incest accusation came out of the blue, totally invented by Cromwell as another stick to beat Anne with.

      It seems more logical that someone put the idea in his head by commenting on the closeness of brother and sister and perhaps implying that there was something unnatural about it. Like Vermillion, I have my suspicions about Jane Rochford’s role in the whole business. There might have been things that she was willing to hint at but not state in such a way as to constitute a statement that could be used in court.

      I am not convinced that a charge of incest was necessary to negate George’s political influence either. The charges of adultery alone were enough to justify Anne’s execution, and her brother would have had little power when she was no longer queen had he survived her.

      This is not to say that I personally believe that Anne and George committed incest – I consider it very unlikely. But no-one can really state that it is impossible.

  3. Leandra says:

    The point you make at the end,Claire where people believe what they want to believe just the same as 1536 really strikes a chord with me. I don’t believe Anne commited incest at all. But people WILL believe it just as they did 500 yrs ago just the same. Phillipa Gregory

    1. Leandra says:

      (Sorry lost my page for a minute there) really helped give the old myth new life,unfortunatly. TOBG is where I think many people started to become familiar with Anne Boleyn and in my opinion the book’s portrayal of is very distorted and Anne is demonized to the point where she is a deplorable woman who never did anything that she did not benefit from. That is sad because like I said before, many people came to really know of her. But weather they want to believe she was TOBG’s Anne or do more research is up to them. They will believe what they want.

  4. Henry VIII wanted rid of Anne and I’m sure the political scene was just as corrupt as it is today, so he pretended to believe that Anne and George were involved sexually. As far as George’s wife was concerned, she must have been a complete fool, given her actions with Katherine Howard. Can we believe anything she said?

  5. Baroness Von Reis says:

    Clare,Great read!I had read the same thing in a history book by Myer’s 1905 and also in the Veinna Archive’s, that they were all convicted on presumption, but I think in thier mind set back in the day, that meant you were guilty.Was Queen Anne close to her brother and loved him as a brother sister relationship, of croase she did,does that mean incest? No way! Has far as you state Cromwell and Chapuy’s would have made up anything bad ,they hated Anne so much well most of all Chapuy’s really had it out for her.I also want to thank you ,to bring to the readers attention that MS.PG is just that fictonal as a writer,which does’ent help Queen Anne look very good at all!We really need to know what happend to all who were falsely accused and the fictional writers do them know justice at all.I allway’s injoy your reads! Kind Regards Baroness x

  6. miladyblue says:

    “They are close, ergo, they are having sex!”

    Ah, the never ending wonder of small minds skinny dipping in the gutter.

    I am firmly in the camp that George and Anne did NOT have any kind of inappropriate relationship, because they were in a VERY public place, and such a secret would have been impossible to keep. Anne was surrounded by ladies in waiting, many of whom were ambitious and could easily have turned into enemies – rather hard to avoid them, especially considering how much time it took to help a high ranked woman as the Queen to dress in the morning, change clothing as needed during the day, and get ready for bed at night, whether alone or with the King.

    Since there is so little known of Jane Rochford’s life, I am also in the camp that she did not provide direct evidence of incest. It may have been something she said that was edited (or twisted, if you want to call it that) to suit the case at hand, namely evidence bad enough to condemn both her husband and her sister in law. As either Claire or Clare pointed out in an earlier article about George, Anne and the incest accusation, IF Jane had given damning testimony, that accusation would have meant that she would have been left destitute, as all of George’s lands, titles, monies and other sources of wealth would have been confiscated by the crown. But this is still a big mystery – how was it, she was still at court when Kathryn Howard became Queen, and in good enough standing to be a lady in waiting to a Queen, when she herself was the widow of a convicted traitor?

    Something else I would like to point out is that if there WAS an inappropriate relationship between Anne and George, why is there NO mention of it before the big trial? Chapuys would have crowed about it to Charles at the first HINT of impropriety. He certainly had no problems with repeating negative gossip about Anne, and this would have been yet another coup for him to have uncovered.

    Finally, was Anne ever told of this particular accusation? If so, did anyone record her reaction to it? I get kind of a visual of someone confronting Anne with that accusation, who then had to duck when she threw something heavy at their head.

    1. Baroness Von Reis says:

      miladyblue,Very well said!!!Was Queen Anne told about the incest,of croase,she was charged with it when ,The Duke Of Norforlk arrested her,and she was well aware of the charge’s.I just wonder what she was really thinking about Henry V111,I know that I would have been soooo PO’D at that king,with that said and Anne’s temper she must have been steamming,just my thoughts. Regrads Baroness x

    2. Jillian says:

      To be fair to Chapuys, he does not seem to have believed the accusation of incest and was sceptical of the evidence of adultery – he wrote that Anne’s supposed lovers ‘were condemned upon presumption and certain indications, without valid proof or confession’. However, there were many others who were willing to believe that the Queen was capable of anything.

      It is still a mystery as to why Anne was accused of incest, given that she was also charged with having multiple lovers, using witchcraft and plotting the King’s death so that she could marry Henry Norris. The last of these was probably even more heinous in sixteenth century eyes than a carnal relationship with her brother.

      Accusations of witchcraft had been used against English royal ladies before as a means of achieving political ends. Joanna of Navarre was charged by her stepson Henry V with using witchcraft and attempting to poison him as an excuse for confiscating her dower rights. Eleanor Cobham, was prosecuted for ‘treasonable necromancy’ in 1441 by opponents of her husband Humphrey Duke of Gloucester. If Cromwell’s intention was simply to bring down George as well as Anne, he could surely have used these precedents to mire him in the alleged plot against the King.

      There must have been something that made the incest charge plausible. Rochford was reported to have protested at his trial that he was being condemned for the crime ‘on the evidence of one woman’. Was this Jane? Or were there others at Court who saw something dubious in the closeness of brother and sister, at least once it was clear that Anne was on her way out?

      It is also possible that Cromwell was influenced by the time he spent in Italy in his youth. He seems to have been living there in 1503, in the last year of the Borgia papacy. He must have heard the rumours of incest between the Pope’s son Cesare and daughter Lucrezia, which were probably as untrue as the accusations against Anne and George. Perhaps his memories of this combined with the gossip and hints of contemporaries combined to form the charge against the Queen and her brother.

  7. margaret says:

    It must have bee the most horrendous thing to have gone through,the fear still reaches me anyway and im sure eveyone who knows about anne boleyn can feel it even 500 years later ,i can read about anyone else in history who came to a bad end and i sort of forget the horror after a while as other thoughts filter into my mind ,but not anne boleyn and i dont think i ever will ,i just want to go back there and get her away quickly.

  8. We can certainly make ourselves crazy, with all of the different theories about Anne & George. I think it is just a personal opinion that we ourselves have to make. If it happened, everyone involved, of course, is long dead, and history cannot be changed. We can all debate the issue from now until the end of time and nothing will be different . Those of us who believe there was nothing untoward going on between George and the Queen, or even between Anne & the other men, have to stand firm on those very beliefs, as it is pretty much all we have. I believe all three of the Boleyn children were very close growing up, and that closeness possibly continued throughout their short lives. Siblings do grow apart, sadly, and things occur that distance us or separate us from each other, and life goes on. Anne was a Queen. I find it difficult that something she no doubt wanted so badly, she would risk losing by having affairs. Religion was an integral part of the 16th century, & I am guessing that ANY talk of something like incest would just make the people of England reel. Especially if it concerned their Queen….although Anne was not in good favor with the people. Even people that did not necessarily care for her, even some of Henry’s higher-ups that did not like Anne, found it hard to believe the charges against her and George. And although Anne was not popular with most everyone…inside court and out, I think that her brother was held in fairly high regard. Most of the men that Anne was charged with having affairs with, were friends of George. I do not think they would betray a good friend like that. And did not some of these men, other than Thomas Wyatt, grow up with or around the Boleyn children? I think it might be difficult for these men to look at Anne as anything other than their Sovereign.

  9. Sheila Poole says:

    Thank you for the good article. I’ve never believed the incest theory – just another trumped up charge. I can’t imagine what Anne must have gone through when her brother was sentenced to death – as close as they were….this must have been so incredibly painful for Anne Boleyn to know her brother was going to die because of false accusations. And he knew that she would eventually be convicted and die – just a very sad story.

    1. alex says:

      There are two factors one might consider: firstly that the thing which Hilary Mantell summons up – Genetic Sexual Attraction – does exist and has been offered as the explanation for cases of brother/sister incest. However, in all the cases I have heard of, the brother and sister had been brought up apart and not really even known of one another’s existence until they were adult. One expert says that being brought up together to the age of 5 or 6 pretty much prevents GSA coming into being. Anne and George were of course apart for long periods, but they were most probably together as children, and they certainly knew of one another and were in contact. This alone makes GSA distinctly unlikely. As for the idea that George was the ideal father for Anne’s baby, well, one has to stretch one’s mind beyond reason to think that. OK, if the child looked like the Boleyns that would help avoid any idea that it was not the king’s child, whereas if it looked like another courtier…. But Anne could, if she was the person she is charged with being, surely have found a man who looked either like her family or like the king. No DNA testing then! The king was her best resource, and she had had no problem conceiving by him before, nor does there seem to be any real evidence of all that “you’ll get no more boys by me” stuff. One assumes that their sex life would have resumed in due course after the miscarriage. So no, I don’t believe the incest story. However, it has been suggested to me that the Tudor period did not regard incest with the horror we do, and that Anne’s adultery would have been regarded as more sinful than any incest. I don’t know. But it is said that Henry considered legitimising his illegitimate son and marrying him to Mary, his half-sister. Is this true? If so, he clearly was not disturbed by the idea of brother/sister incest in that case.

  10. Anyanka says:

    Given that Anne had spent some time avoiding Henry’s attentions, wanted or not and THEN waited for 6 years or so before getting the prize of marriage and queenship, why would she throw all that effort away for a snatched sex session or 5 ?

    That makes no sence. It just doesn’t fit with Anne’s personality at all. To go from protecting her virtue to being the “village bike” in less than 3 years should make any rational person go WTF..

    As for George..I just can’t see Anne abandoning her morals to couple with her own’s just not logical. As the “OtherWoman” in a very public theatre , discretion was her watchword.

    Anne would not have left herself open to any hint of immorality, especially with her own brother..

    IMNSHO…Anne was guilty of many things that she said and thought and may have done but adultery and incest just doesn’t fit with her modus operandi.

    1. Baroness Von Reis says:

      Anyanka,Your so right girl!!Henry loved to play that INCEST CARD and had done it more then once lets not forget poor Q Kate,he put the incest card into play with her to .He married his brothers wife,it took him 20 years to figure it out,to bad it didn’ent work and QKate passed away well as a doweger Queen,but still a Queen in my eye’s.Aswell as Queen Anne died a true Queen. Kind Regards Baroness x

  11. Kylie Cheung says:

    Anne Boleyn and her brother George were both deeply religious people who were players in the Reformation, and so it makes absolutely no sense that they would commit such sin. The evidence against them is also insubstantial and based primarily on their closeness… wern’t most brother and sisters close, though?

    Great article, I LOVE The AB Files!

  12. Dawn 1st says:

    Too many ears, eyes and people who made their living out of collecting information on others at this ambitious and dangerous Tudor Court for there to be any sexual inappropiate behaviour by Anne after she became Queen, with George, or anybody else. After all everyone knew near enough the day, hour and minute the King was in Anne’s bed, with that little privacy how could it be feasible that she had anyone else in bed.with her.

    As Kylie said above about their devotion to their faith, I doubt they would even allow the thought of committing incest enter their heads let alone carry out the act.
    Also I agree with Ayanka, Anne waited many years to become Queen to throw it away like that.
    We all know how desperate the poor Lady was to have a son, but I can’t imagine in my wildest dreams that her desperation would push her to commit such a vile crime against her person and the damnation of her soul.

    Personally… this rumour was wicked, policital tripe, spread by those ‘on the other side’, it has followed her and George throughout history, and sadly I think it always will, helped by the sensationalization it brings to fiction and films/TV.

    It’s true what they say ‘Mud Sticks’, even after centuries too, it seems. Poor Anne and George, it is a great shame to have this terrible accusation and crime laid on them for ever, and even a bigger shame on those that said it back then out of pure spite and revenge.

    1. Dawn 1st says:

      Forgot to congratulate you Clare on a good article, thanks.

  13. Baroness Von Reis says:

    Clare,Is the portrait a true liking of Anne Boleyn? Baroness

  14. rose says:

    the comment that nothing will change after 500 years. so true and so obvious. there is no new documentation to change anything.
    it is impossible to imagine what it was like for Anne. or for anyone in history, how they thought, how they tried to make the best of a bad situation (her relationship with henry viii). she really had to multi task, beyond belief.

  15. India says:

    I don’t believe the incest charge for a nanosecond. That court had NO PRIVACY (how Cat Howard thought she could …well, never mind). They didn’t have HALLWAYS. Rooms opened into each other. Queens were not necessarily alone even in the privy.

    Have to confess I’m not a fan of The Canonized Cromwell produced by Mantell, aka “He” and sometimes, “He, Cromwell”. The rational “He” comes up with for Anne having it off with George sort of goes like this: “Her husband can’t get it up, and she’s a Total Tease and says no no no no no — oops, I mean yes, you whoever is standing next to me this precise second I stop saying no…”


  16. Judith says:

    Even reputable historians are still slinging mud. Take a look at page 99-97 of Peter Ackroyd’s recent History of England Vol 2. He writes of the conspiracy theory:

    “Yet common sense would suggest that this would be a perilous undertaking indeed. All of the men accused were well known at court; George Boleyn was her brother, in high estate, and Henry Norris was the intimate of the king. It would have been madness to implicate such men in a scheme that had no foundation.”

    Ho-hum! Why would it be madness? Why not heap on the mud so thick that people would hopefully be too shocked and nauseated to ask about the non-existent evidence? He also writes:

    “It is at least possible that Anne Boleyn was not as innocent as she claimed. It may be that she pursued other men in desperate search for a male child who could be hailed as heir to the throne, thereby saving herself and her family for the forseeable future.”

    And as for George reading out the allegation of the king’s alleged impotence at the trial:

    “In scorn, and bravado, he read it aloud. That is not necessarily the action of an honest man. It is the action of a defendant daring the court to do its worst. Boleyn also did not deny that he had spread rumours about the Princess Elizabeth’s paternity. It was in fact rumoured that the real father was Sir Henry Norris. No one can at this late date be certain of anything. The truth, as always, lies at the bottom of the well.”

    How about, it might have been the action of a man who knew that his trial was a show trial and that he was already doomed?

    I would be interested to know what Clare and Claire make of all this mud-slinging in what’s supposed to be reputable, secular history rather than propaganda. Also, what evidence is there that George Boleyn “spread rumours about the Princess Elizabeth’s paternity”?

    1. Judith says:


      I left out a word when transcribing from an online version of the book. The last line I quoted should be: “Boleyn also did not deny that he had spread rumours about the princess Elizabeth’s true paternity.”

      TRUE paternity. Hmm.

      1. Clare says:

        Hello Judith,
        Thanks for raising this. Ackroyd’s comments exemplify exactly what I was getting at. His whole premise is based on ‘there must have been more to it than that’, but he’s unable to point to anything which proves guilt.
        I agree with you regarding George reading out the accusation about Henry’s impotency. I don’t see how it can be suggested that he was guilty for doing so.
        As for George spreading rumours of Elizabeth’s paternity, it is referred to by Chapuys who says he didn’t deny it. There is no mention of where this accusation came from or who provided the statement. It just appears to have been an accusation put to George without any indication of who it came from.
        But why would George, who adored his sister, seriously question his own niece’s paternity, thereby insinuating his beloved sister was a whore? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

        1. Claire says:

          I think the whole paternity issue came from the fact that George spoke of Henry’s impotence and therefore was impugning the succession.

        2. Judith says:

          Hi Clare and Claire,

          Thank you for your responses. You’re doubtless both as tired as I am of seeing slanderous theories regurgitated in a “What if?” or “We don’t know what happened” manner, always with no evidence to support them and with Eric Ives’ biography, which discredits nearly all such theories, listed in the bibliography. I can’t reach any conclusion other than that people who wilfully ignore Ives’ conclusions, without even discussing and trying to demolish them, must have an agenda or an axe to grind.

          John Edwards has done something similar in his hagiography of Bloody Mary, Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen. He claims that the proposal, early on in Henry VIII’s divorce, to marry the Princess Mary to her half-brother “possibly originated with Anne Boleyn”, with not a shred of evidence to back it up, and even though H. A. Kelly’s The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII, which he lists as a source, only mentions Wolsey in connection with it. He also claims that ‘Between 1531 and 1533, Anne habitually ill-treated both Catherine and her daughter’ but provides no evidence of this alleged ill-treatment except to say that Anne referred to Mary as a bastard. And all this in something that’s supposed to be modern, academic, non-partisan history put out by Yale University Press.

          I don’t suppose either of you will be going back to reviewing? I know it leads to abusive comments from nutters, but these sort of books deserve to be subjected to the sort of scrutiny that’s lacking elsewhere. Essays such as the above are wonderful, but the more scrutiny the merrier!

          As for George allegedly questioning his niece’s paternity and insinuating that his sister was a whore, I also can’t see what possible incentive he had to do this. But then I’m not a historical novelist or a popular historian.


  17. Charlene says:

    Do I think George and Anne committed incest? No. Am I certain of that? No.

    Would I take the word of a historical novelist into consideration when making up my mind about anything? No, and for a very good reason: the main concern of a novelist is not to portray history accurately but to sell their book. Remember Johnson’s phrase, “none but a blockhead wrote except for money”. He had a point: the novelist must have a viewpoint and must take a stand that sets them apart from the rest. When a novelist is asked a question about history (such as Mantel and Gregory were, as quoted above), they’re still trying to sell their book. Given how little the average writer earns, I can forgive them. What I can’t forgive are non-fiction writers who do the same thing.

    1. Baroness Von Reis says:

      Charlene,We are all intitle to our opinions and I do keep a very open mind,I agee to disagree,with Anne and George having committing incest.But thats just my opinion, on that subject.However weather it be fictional or factual writers and as you say ,the almighty buck,I must disagree with that reply,there are many writers with a great love to research ,about whom they are writing about.We could sit down with pen in hand and write what ever comes to mind ,will it sell ? perhapes,to one whom might be interested.There our a great many writers that spend endless hours in research, as well as the one’s ,who have’nt a clue such as Ms.Pg and as I am sure countless others.We should try to remember that not all writers, write for the all mighty buck,it is a love,and a gift to those who seek knowledge, of what a writer shares with the readers. Kind Regards Baroness

    2. Baroness Von Reis says:

      Charlene,I will however agree with your reply to the non-fic writers,whats the point,well you could’ent of hit the nail on the head!! THE MIGHTY BUCK !! However the wonderfull factual author’s ,who spend so much time to make facts not fics.Maybe we will never know all ,of what happend with the people of day’s gone past,and to these people who try to write what very little, they do not !! might think about sitting down and doing there ” RESEARCH” before they begin to write,publish and sell book’s ,so know more people can be misinformed.Thank you for your reply and to Clare Cherry,Claire Ridgeway, true Author’s Kind Regards Baroness x

    3. Judith says:

      But Hilary Mantel must have earned a fortune from Wolf Hall. She wasn’t a starving author when she wrote Bring up the Bodies. The success of Wolf Hall probably also sent sales of her previous books soaring, and then who knows how much she received as an advance on Bring up the Bodies. And wasn’t Philippa Gregory already an established, fairly successful historical novelist before The Other Boleyn Girl?

      I have no problem with novelists having a viewpoint and trying to be creative. I just wish they’d refrain from doing so with real human beings in a manner that defames them. Suggesting that Anne and George Boleyn committed incest just because the accusation came out of nowhere at their trials is like suggesting that Marie Antoinette committed incest with her own son because she too was accused of that at her trial.

      1. Baroness Von Reis says:

        Judith,Very well said and I to agree they should not !I call it demonize, theses souls from the past ! When there’s so many author’s ,who pain stackingly try to help understand what went on ,in the history of the world.In my opionion,there our Author’s and there our simply writer’s,a huge difference!Also thank you for your views on Anne and George in there defence. Kind Regards Baroness X

        1. Judith says:

          Hi Baroness,
          There’s a funny, devastating review of The Other Boleyn Girl on by the late Irene Rhinewald in which she writes:

          “Let me begin by stating PG is a technically impoverished ‘writer’. TOBG is rife with errors: grammatically incorrect sentences, missing commas, changes in point of view from first to third person omniscient; characters exit scenes in which they did not appear in the first place. Moreover, the ‘style’ – if one can call it that – is simplistic, cliché ridden, and without distinction.”

          I like the “writer” in quotes! It says it all. As for demonizing those in the past, perhaps when Mantel is done with the Tudors she’ll write a novel suggesting that Lucrezia Borgia really did commit incest with both her brother and her father. After all, it’s not as if her family had any enemies who might have wanted to damage their reputations, so that must mean it’s true …

          Well, perhaps in some people’s opinions. The rest of us might want some evidence before we give credence to the allegation.

        2. Baroness Von Reis says:

          Judith,I Love the second paragragh in your comment, to the hodgepodge that ,MS.PG’s inconsistent writting,which, Irean Rhinewald points out,as well as you. PG’s style is all over the place and one can call that ,nothing short of a mess.It was infact mind numbing! to say the least and people believe this,most inportent it will never END.Sad but true,so we look to the real Historian,s and Author’s ,that can and will bring out the.trutth.Judith in my heart of hearts there is so much to be uncovered and I’m not Brining Up Bodies, it will come out pehapes ,not in my life time or maybe it will.I commend Claire,Clare and all the AB Friends ,as they all have a great believe ,what more is to come and there is much more to this true to life History. Kind Regards Baroness x

  18. Baroness Von Reis says:

    Judith,Thank you for the excellent reply!! I in great hope was wishing that Mantel and MS.PG would take a croase in research,before they ever write again.This is the history of people, that have been trash talked for some 500 years!Yes if people keep on making them look bad, they will in a great deal of minds always be judged ,as bad people.Thats not to say don’t write,but history is very complex, real people,real events. I once said,we will all be history one day ,I for one would’ent want to be known as a horrible person,as I am sure that Queen Anne and her family do not ither.True we may never know of what happen back in the days of Anne and Henry V111,with that said we have more insight now then ever before,due to the Historians and true Author’s.Thank You Baroness x

    1. Judith says:

      I’ve heard that being clever and being wise can be two different things, and this appears to be the problem with some authors and historians – they’re busy being ‘clever’, dredging up old, discredited accusations and putting them forward as a ‘what if’ – perhaps to cause controversy and make money they don’t even need – not realising that they might end up trashing their own credibility in the process if someone comes along and holds their ‘historical’ novels to account, by comparing them with the historical sources. At least this website is exposing their exploitation of the judicially murdered. It’s funny, though, that no one – even historical novelists – seems to think Marie Antoinette was guilty of her trumped-up charge of incest, but Anne and George Boleyn still have to be defended.

      1. Baroness Von Reis says:

        Judith,A very true statement! About Marie Antoinette and that incest word ,once again, when wanting to rid someone play the incest card,seems to work very well.However Anne and her family threw out the years have been so hated ,it seems never ending ,Anne was a whore,George self serving,Thomas a pimp,Katherine sleeping with the King,Mary was’ent really trash in history?Now we know why she was the phantom sister,although she was mistress to the King long before, Anne made her entrance.Kind Regards Baroness x

  19. Dawn 1st says:

    Talking about fiction writers, really to be fair, these people such as PG etc, are only ‘jumping on the band wagon’.
    They are opportunists, not historians, who have taken the myths and suppositions that have been bandied about from Tudor times onwards, proceeded to weave a narrative and story in with these myths, put it into a text that suits these times, and end up having a best seller!!
    From a buisness point of view it makes great sense, from a historical point of view it can be infuriating, and make the removing of myth become harder because the writers keep repeating the same things that have been said for centuries. but in reality they haven’t written anything new at all. Crazy isn’t it…
    I love the factual books, and I enjoy the easy reading of fiction, though I am amazed at times how far a writer can distort these people beyond recognition. Speaking of…I am reading one of these at the moment, well listening to one, its an audio book, helps the decorating seem less tedious.
    It’s called the Fifth Queen by Ford Madox Ford, written in 1906, anyone heard of it? Wow, is this an ususal interpretation of C,Howard, I will just give you a little insight to it; the book has all the usual suspects, but Catherine is well educated, speaks latin etc, knew Culpepper along time before she went to court, was a lady-in-waiting to Lady (Princess) Mary, as was Lady Rochford?? who was Anne Boleyns cousin, not her sister in law?. Catherine was being dragged into a plot to bring down A of Cleeves (who was ugly and stupid) by Cromwell and Throckmorton…. and it goes on, why am I still listening to it, because despite its unbelievable amount of inaccuracies/fantasy, its captivating because it is very well written. You can see it is written in Edwardian times as it is very wordy and discriptive, and the narrative between the people is as good and realistic, plus it isn’t crude in the fact it doesn’t mention sex at all, well it wouldn’t in those days…honestly if you think TOBG was far fetched, have a go at this one, you’ll not believe the contrast to his Catherine and the usual view of her, it’s redeeming features are its refinement in style, the grammar , and the command of the English language, for me anyway. I think it has just come out in print again. Give it a go, it will make your jaw drop 🙂

    1. Judith says:

      I tried The Fifth Queen about a year ago and found it AWFUL. If it made my jaw drop then it wasn’t in a good way. I could hardly believe what I was reading. It appeared to be almost pure fiction: Catherine Howard the good-natured, warm-hearted dimwit turned into a cultivated Latin-speaking Renaissance lady to whom important men would turn for use in a plot, when in real life she doesn’t appear to have had the craftiness to look after her own interests let alone anyone else’s. What the …

      I gave up pretty quickly – I’m not sure I even got to the end of the first three books. And although the writing started out impressively I soon grew extremely bored by the story to the point where even skilful, refined writing couldn’t make me focus on it or hold my attention. I couldn’t go on. It seemed like just more of the opportunism to which you referred, except that it didn’t contain defamatory sleaze.

      As for Catherine being dragged into a plot to bring down Anne of Cleves, from what I’ve read I can’t imagine that people actually needed to plot against her. Henry VIII wanted out of his marriage. It was just a case of helping him to do what he desperately wanted to do: find grounds for a swift annulment and then persuade Anne of Cleves to agree to it. That doesn’t sound like a plot to me. It sounds like serving one’s sovereign, which is what anyone at the Tudor court had to do in order to survive and thrive.

      1. Baroness Von Reis says:

        Judith,Lets just hope and pray they don’t make a made for ,TV mini series out of anything Ackroyd writes! The OTBG was bad enough and the Tudors series .If you are a Author on the subject of” Queen Anne”or for that matter any of the Tudors, write something thats good “Factual” get someone who knows how to write a script and please please get “SEASONED ACTORS”to play the people whom they portray!! Regards Baroness X

      2. Dawn 1st says:

        You are so right, it is unbelievable, I think thats what makes me want to keep listening to it to the bitter end, because I need to see how his version is going to end, not one to give up, plus a friend bought it for me as a gift, so it would be rude not to really.
        You are also right when you say that it is pure fiction, but what an imagination the man had…ha, it makes me chuckle, if he had lived now he would have made a fortune in Hollywood don’t you think 🙂 I am not sure if my audio version is the full Trio of books, or whether its abridged, as it is in sleeves with no hard cover with a write up so I will have to wait and see.

        Oh yes I know, the thought of Cromwell etc trying to drag Catherine into a plot to bring down Anne is a strange concept, and of course what is actually written in history is a completely different story, but as we both had said it is pure fiction. It is a version of events I have never heard, or could even imagine.
        But I can still appreciate the Edwardian Style writing of it, and will continue to ‘listen’, lets just hope my ears don’t start bleeding, and I don’t fall of my decorating ladder laughing….I think this writer was also a poet, it seems he may have let his poetic side slip into his writing of these 3 books, don’t you Judith…

        1. Judith says:

          I don’t know much about Ford Madox Ford, and although I’ve read lots of classic literature in the past – before I became converted to popular fiction as a superior form of literature, since it’s written to please the reader instead of the author’s ego – I don’t recall reading a single other book by him. Yes, these days I suppose he’d be writing for Hollywood or British television, and perhaps writing episodes of The Tudors for Showtime. Not that I’ve seen it, but I gather it’s little better than historical confection so it would probably be right up his ally.

          I must have missed the bit about Cromwell trying to drag Catherine Howard into a plot against Anne of Cleves or given up before I reached it, since I don’t recall it. I thought the Howards and Cromwell were enemies, but then perhaps Mr Ford knew something I don’t …

  20. says:

    I’m here because I just read Peter Ackroyd’s comments about AB and his slant towards her guilt in the matters of incest and adultery. As noted previously, in an age when privacy (and complicated dressing) made illicit fornication open to discovery, where is he coming from. I confess I immediately thought of a man (Ackroyd) who distrusts women … and then i did a little research.

    1. Judith says:

      Do you mean there could have been a religious bias? That possibility crossed my mind. You might find this review of another of his books of interest:

  21. The Tudors depicted Lady Rochford giving her testimony against her husband, but of course, you can’t trust that. They did that for the show, and because of the speculation, it does make for good, nearly historically accurate depictions.

    Thank you for writing these amazing blog articles. It’s so important to remind people that we don’t know the whole story!

  22. Susan says:

    Thanks for the article, and also for pointing out that most people get their ideas of Anne and George Boleyn from fiction. Philippa Gregory includes a brother/sister incest in one of her earlier novels (I can’t recall which at this distance in time since I read it, perhaps Meridon), so she’s got form here.
    Personally I am inclined to believe that George had to be got rid of if Anne was – political safety perhaps was the motive, certainly he would never have sat back idly as his father did and seen Anne executed without making a lot of noise. A charge of treason could presumably have been brought, but the incest charge seems an obvious calumny, if you are going to charge Anne with adultery why not add another man to the list, and blacken both characters while you are at it, rather than raising another issue?
    However, there is a real phenomenon called Genetic Sexual Attraction, which occurs between close relatives who have not met much until adulthood, and a number of recent cases have appeared in the press. I suppose it is possible that if George and Anne did not really know one another until they were adults it is possible that they felt this. But that’s different from acting on any such attraction of course, and I don’t believe they did.
    Other people elsewhere have also speculated that incest was not regarded so badly in the Tudor period as now and would not have disturbed the moral code of the times very much (I know this undermines my argument that the charge of incest against them was deliberately framed to render them unsympathetic), and that Henry VIII seriously considered marrying his daughter Mary to her illegitimate half brother Richmond. I don’t kow whether there is much truth in this, but certainly in other countries at the time uncles married nieces without much comment.

    1. Judith says:

      If Anne Boleyn was born in 1501 and George in 1504 then at the time Anne left England for Margaret of Austria’s court in 1513 she would have been twelve and George eight or nine. So Anne would have been two or three when her younger brother was born and they would have known each other for about nine years, unless George had already gone to Court when she left England, since I think I read on this website that George served Henry VIII as a page when he was still a boy. I still doubt that could be stretched by anyone to claim that they only met as adults.

      One of the charges against Walter, Lord Hungerford, who was executed at the same time as Thomas Cromwell, was that he had raped his own daughter, but I don’t know if that was one of the main charges since he was accused of treason too and was also the first person to be executed under the Buggery Act. This is his Wikipedia entry, although the incest charge isn’t mentioned there:,_1st_Baron_Hungerford_of_Heytesbury

  23. Manda says:

    What a well-written and informative article. I must confess that PG’s TOBG is what first sparked my interest in the Tudors and in Anne. But when I read good (sorry, but I do enjoy the flow of her books) historical fiction, I love to learn about the real people the book was inspired by. I went into her books and the films knowing only to take her ‘facts’ and depiction of events with a helping of salt because it was fiction.

    Still, I wondered at her depiction of Anne and George’s relationship and especially the miscarriage/stillbirth when they threw the fetus on the fire. It seemed… too incredible to be true.

    It has now been a few years since I learned of Anne Boleyn and I am determined to learn as much as I can about what she, her life and her death were really like. I strongly feel that her speech on the scaffold speaks to her true, loving character. She was already to die, what but faith and love could bid her to hold her tongue then? (Admittedly, it might be argued that it was out of concern for her daughter’s well-being.)

    But I’m rambling. You present an excellent case for the innocence of Anne and George and for George’s wife who has also been slandered without evidence. My gut always said that they were innocent and the fact of Anne’s true faith seemed to back me up, but this gives me more to study and begin to draw an educated opinion.

    Thank you.

  24. Silverwhistle says:

    Philippa Gregory’s use of the incest plotline has to be seen in the context of the preoccupations of her other novels. She first hit the big time with the ‘Wideacre’ trilogy, which had sibling incest (deliberate and accidental) as a recurring theme. Her fictionalised Anne is in many respects just a reworking of Beatrice (unscrupulous, incestuous, meets violent end) in ‘Wideacre’, but in 16C instead of 18C costume. She also has run with the Richard III and Elizabeth of York incest myth, too. She seems to have a rather troubling fixation.

  25. Holly says:

    I believe it was possible for some simple reasons.

    1. Anne desperately needed a son, and Henry’s fertility and virility were questionable.
    2. Her brother was a man she was in close contact with, and being her brother, it *should* not have been suspicious for the two of them to be alone together in a room, or otherwise seen together.
    3. Since he was her brother, she could hopefully count on his secrecy and silence.
    4. Incest was hardly uncommon in the age.

    There is no proof one way or the other of course, and no one knows. That’s what keeps us all so enthralled by Anne, and countless other people from history. Mysteries drive us bonkers and compel us to try and figure them out!

    All that said, no one should judge Anne harshly even if they believe she committed incest. One must remember how much pressure she was under to produce an heir. Catherine couldn’t, and look how she ended up. Anne’s family was also quite bent on their own status and fortune, so even from them, she was under considerable pressure to produce a son.

    Being Queen, it’s not like she could just sleep with some random court member or visiting peddler. IF she was going to try to produce a child by someone other than Henry, she was going to need someone she knew, and could trust. She could not afford any suspicion or doubt as to the child’s paternity. It hypoethically makes sense then that someone like her brother would fit the bill. He was close at hand, so she could make sure to overlap..things..with him and the king so the timing was not questionable.

    All hypothetical!

    I don’t know anymore than anyone else.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      If Henry was going through a period of impotence then it would hardly be sensible for his wife to get herself pregnant by someone else, let alone her own brother, because the King would know the child wasn’t hers. The only evidence that Henry was even impotent was a confidential off remark from Anne to her sister in law. Yeah, that’s evidence. There is no other evidence to support it. There was never any rumours that Anne and George were inappropriate in a Court full of gossip. The accusations were invented to blacken the Queen’s name and show that she was capable of anything, including adultery with several men and conspiracy to kill her husband. Yes, it’s possible, but it didn’t happen. It was invented and there was nothing to support these lies and allegations.

  26. Something I truly do not understand is did people NOT know back then, or were they just not aware of the fact in those days, that incest would more than likely create a deformed child? Anne & George most certainly would not have risked that by sleeping together!!!! That always has made me seriously question the validity of the accusations about their charges of incest. Their sleeping together would have absolutely no good outcome, in any way that I can see. Even if they were not discovered, there was always the potential for Anne to become pregnant. My gosh, what a horrible thing to even imagine!!!!

  27. Emma Maries says:

    Hello everyone!
    I realize I’m a bit late on the uptake for the discussion, but one thing that has always fascinated me about the downfall of Anne Boleyn is the fact that shortly before her execution her marriage to Henry VIII was declared null and void. The reason this fascinated me is because if there was never a legal marriage then Anne could never have committed adultery or treason, but she was still executed. This is why I think these arguments about whether Anne was ever involved in any affairs outside her supposed marriage become null and void. I think this move makes it clear that the allegations brought against her were made for one reason and for one reason only; to get rid of her. All the things that Henry was attracted to when it came to Anne became the very things that he grew to hate and when she couldn’t provide a a male heir that was it, his mind was made up. He knew there was no way Anne would shrink away and give him an easy divorce, Catherine of Aragon wasn’t half the fighter Anne was and she caused more than enough trouble for him so why take the risk with the feisty Anne Boleyn? Plain and simple he wanted out and the easiest way for him to do it was to have her executed. So he picked the biggest womanizers in the court, Anne’s faithful (and quite possibly homosexual) musician and her loyal brother and BOOM! he was the King of England who was going to stand up and say something? Thomas Cromwell? A man who desperately needed to solidify his relationship with Henry and prove his worth. Thomas Boleyn? A man afraid of losing everything that he and his family had gained. Thomas Cranmer? A man who owed his rise in the world to the King and could risk losing his own head. Nobody would have stood against him. I think it was pretty clear their didn’t need to be evidence, there didn’t need to be rumors in all honesty I think if Henry had his way there wouldn’t even have to be a trial. Anne Boleyn was an outspoken, loud and vivacious woman who tried to play the game when she didn’t know the other players knew rules she didn’t. An innocent woman I truly believe subjected to judgement, criticism and cruel rumors because she couldn’t provide a male heir and suffered a completely natural, although distressing miscarriage, something which was incredibly common but also incredibly misunderstood at the time.

    1. EMed says:

      Why kill her, though? If there was absolutely no truth to any of these accusations then why have her executed? Henry could have simply banished her to a nunnery since he had already gotten his annulment. There are always two sides to every story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle. Whether she committed incest or not there must have been something else.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        The reason for the annulment was to ensure that Princess Elizabeth was declared illegitimate and therefore excluded from the throne.
        The annulment had nothing to do with the charges. Henry wanted to start over fresh with Jane Seymour and the children from his new marriage to be the only ones who could legally inherit the crown. Even if Anne was executed, her marriage to Henry would still be valid and Elizabeth his heir. Henry wanted her to be the same status as he saw his daughter, Mary, thus excluding both from the throne.
        Henry wasn’t content to be a widower. He wanted to forget Anne had existed and act like this was now his first and only marriage.
        Only by finding a way to declare his marriage to Anne null and void could he move on and his children with her would still be his heirs, despite her execution. He may be free to remarry but he didn’t want to acknowledge their daughter as his heir and so a rival for any children born to Jane so he found a way to clear the path for his future children by making them his only legitimate heirs.
        Henry used two methods. He tried to get Henry Percy to say that they were betrothed before he married Anne but Percy said no. He used his former relationship with Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister, forbidden in canon law to make the marriage null and void. It was one last insult to her memory.

  28. Lauren Davies says:

    I have always thought that the allegation of incest was possibly revenge for when Anne accused the Duke of Suffolk of conducting a relationship with his own daughter. Which was a reckless and misguided thing to do on Anne’s part, and I have no doubt built the dislike between them. So for me it does stand to reason for the insult to be returned at a later date. I know that Ives says that she accused Brandon of having an affair with his son’s fiancée, but if you look at Letters and Papers and the Spanish Calendar of State Papers they make it very clear that it was his own biological daughter that Brandon was being accused of having a relationship with.

    However that is not to say that I believe them to be guilty. The primary target in my opinion was Anne regardless of guilt, and I believe Anne was innocent. George was just collateral damage. It’s really a rather brutal reminder that we should be careful what we say and who we say it about. In the end it might come back to haunt you.

    1. Claire says:

      So do you think that Suffolk had an active involvement in Anne’s fall?

      Yes, Chapuys’ reported in 1531 that Anne had accused Suffolk of sleeping with his “own daughter”:

      “La dite dame aussi pour le mesme respect, et pour se venger de ce que le due de sufforcq lauoit autres fois voulu charger de son honneur, luy a fait mectre sus quil se mesloit et copuloit avec sa propre fille.”

      Chapuys’ information was obviously second hand, at least, so I think there is a case for Ives’s theory (Susan Wabuda, Oxford DNB also follows this line), that “sa propre fille” (“his own daughter”), may have actually referred to the Duke’s ward, Catherine Willoughby. Catherine had been Suffolk’s ward since at least February 1529 (some say March 1528), when she was 9, and it was planned that she would be his daughter-in-law by marrying his son Henry, so she may well have been seen as his “daughter” by Chapuys or those who reported Anne’s words to him. Suffolk married Catherine just three months after Mary Tudor’s death, so he may well have been interested in her in 1531. Of course, it may be that Anne did actually accuse him of incest with his own biological daughters, but I have never found any other mention of the charge.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        I read somewhere recently of an author suggesting that the incest charge was brought by Suffolk or at least his idea in revenge for Anne accusing him of incest with his own daughter, which was of course nonsense on both counts. I don’t know were I read it, but nobody as far as I am aware after years of studying this era, has ever involved Suffolk actively in the downfall of Anne Boleyn. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t involved behind the scenes, maybe assisting Cromwell, but he is only actually recorded as doing his duty to escort her to the Tower at her arrest and being prominent as a judge at her trial. A number of Anne and George’s judges and the men on the Grand Juries had some connection to Suffolk, who had no love for Anne Boleyn. Suffolk wasn’t usually partisan but he had objected to the King marrying Anne and been rebuked and banished because of it. His men and those of Norfolk had crossed swords over his wife’s abusive language about Anne, leading to the fatal wounding of one of his chief retainer. He was killed inside the Sanctuary at Westminster and the killers bargained for a pardon while in there. Suffolk wasn’t exactly pleased. He had swallowed his pride and accepted Anne as Queen, probably more for self preservation and out of deep loyalty to Henry rather than any real support for her. He had plenty of motivation to see her gone. He was one of those Henry knew he could count on to find Anne guilty in this charade of a trial. The rest of the jury was loaded with his relatives, those under his patronage, his friends and others related to him in marriage. Others were linked to Cromwell or to other new insiders, supporting the Seymour faction. Nobody was impartial in any way. I don’t believe Suffolk was giving Cromwell advice on the charges, I think he was capable of inventing or manipulating them himself. It is interesting, however, that this idea has come out recently, because a number of books have appeared about Suffolk or Mary and Suffolk, so speculation is bound to be about as well.

  29. Jani says:

    When Marie Antoinette was on trial, she was accused of having incestuous relations with her young son. Historians and anyone with common sense agree: this was done to blacken her name further, to make her seem a monster. I believe it is the same with Anne, that charges of heinous crimes make anything believable.
    Many siblings have close relationships, whether they are the same sex or of different sexes, and that’s not a crime, that’s family. It was the same with Anne and George: common goals, common interests, being friends as well as siblings.
    These “crimes” were fabricated to justify Anne’s execution, and, as noted above, to get rid of a powerful courtier who would have fought for his sister’s exoneration. Five hundred years later, if no solid evidence is present, it will never be found; it doesn’t exist.

  30. OJ says:

    The charges of incest against Anne are not simply on the basis that she had a close relationship with her brother, but more focused around the fact that she was unable to produce a male heir, and therefore may have turned to George as a last resort.

    1. Claire says:

      But she needed the baby to be the King’s. If Henry was having sexual problems and could not have ‘get it up’ then it would be no good Anne sleeping with another man as it would be obvious that the child was not the King’s. Even if his problem was on/off then I don’t see why she would consider her brother as even a “last resort”. Both Boleyn siblings were very religious and incest would have been out of the question morally.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Yeap, sisters and brothers having sexual relations was forbidden and Anne and George could not risk going to Hell for a terrible sin. The child would be harmed as well. Observation would teach people that even back then. Even cousins marrying was strictly regulated. You had to be second or third or a generation removed or something like that. Anne would be committing treason outright having a baby by another man, very dangerous and there were probably better options than her brother available. However, the evidence puts Anne or the men in other places than they were accused of having these affairs. In other words the accused had an alibi.

        Now while I am sure incest went on in every century even as it does now, this isn’t Game of Thrones were the Lanisters and the Targarians marry their sisters or father children with their twin brother or Ancient Egypt were the eighteenth dynasty died out because of full blooded incest. This was a devout age when such things put your immortal soul at risk, a belief taken very seriously. Anne swore at the Mass during the Last Sacrament that she was innocent and had witnesses. George and Anne are regarded as very religious, with genuine regard for reform and real faith and also very smart. Having a kid by your own brother when your husband may be impotent and passing he or she off your husband’s royal heir, to me doesn’t sound very smart. There is no evidence that Henry even had a problem in 1535/6 and we can’t take Anne’s comments about how much he could satisfy her as a valid statement which is evidence. The statement was said to her sister in law who told her husband. However, it is subjective and may not be true. The earliest extant possible evidence for impotency in Henry Viii comes from 1540/41 when he couldn’t consummate his marriage to Anne of Cleves and when he had to lock himself away from Kathryn Howard because of this and depression. But in 1536 we only have one fatal statement which somehow came to the attention of Thomas Cromwell who used it against George Boleyn at his trial.

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