The Real Wolf Hall – Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn

Posted By on May 27, 2015

Mark Rylance and Claire Foy as Cromwell and Anne in Wolf Hall.

Mark Rylance and Claire Foy as Cromwell and Anne in Wolf Hall.

A big thank you to Olga Hughes, editor of Nerdalicious and regular contributor to Tudor Life magazine, for writing this wonderful article on Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn.

There is something distinctly discomfiting about Henry VIII’s judicial murder of his wife, Queen Anne Boleyn. It is not only the terrible tragedy that befell her at the hands of her own husband. It is almost too difficult to accept that Henry VIII murdered his wife and got away with it easily. But who could believe that Henry’s passionate and absolute devotion to Anne, having remained faithful for seven long years before he was able to marry her, could be extinguished so easily? Henry’s swift and total destruction of the woman he almost destroyed his kingdom to posses has baffled historians for centuries. And theories that attempt to place Anne Boleyn’s murder in the hands of others are probably not without some sentimentality.

When Anne’s daughter Elizabeth ascended to the throne, more than 20 years had passed since her mother’s execution. Elizabeth only made one real public statement about her mother. An image of her parents King Henry VIII and his consort Queen Anne Boleyn, depicted in wedded harmony, was boldly displayed at her coronation. Otherwise Elizabeth kept her own counsel on her mother’s controversial fall. There would hardly have been any appropriate time to broach the subject with the queen. Who would want to post the question to their monarch – was her mother an adulteress, or her father a murderer? It would be far more convenient, and prudent, to place the blame on someone else.
Thus, in Elizabeth I’s reign two scapegoats were created. One was Thomas Cromwell, accused of cold-bloodedly destroying Anne Boleyn and her supporters. The other, Elizabeth’s aunt, Jane Rochford, accused of giving the testimony that allowed Cromwell to accomplish his coup; taking down not only the Queen of England, but her brother and another four innocent men.

How Thomas Cromwell figures into the controversy is fairly straightforward. Thomas Cromwell quarrelled with Anne Boleyn, their relationship became difficult, and so Cromwell decided he must be rid of her. But is it believable that Thomas Cromwell awoke one day and decided he could not only dupe Henry VIII, he could destroy the Queen of England as well? Some have placed Cromwell’s fingerprints on the sword itself. Various modern examinations emphasise Cromwell’s “victory” – Cromwell’s triumph was complete… Cromwell emerged completely triumphant… savouring his triumph at her downfall… – and depict Anne and Cromwell locked in a deadly struggle for power.

Were Anne really responsible for ‘making’ Cromwell, had they worked closely together for the common cause only to fall out over Cromwell’s alleged greed, perhaps we could reconcile Cromwell with the villain that has been created over the centuries. However much of this is a misconception. Cromwell’s career had been advanced by Henry, not Anne Boleyn. Cromwell still seemingly admired Catherine of Aragon, and had intervened with Henry on Catherine’s behalf. Cromwell was also a Lutheran, and the Germans continued to support Catherine in Henry’s ‘Great Matter’. Cromwell’s relationship with Anne may always have been uneasy. There is certainly no evidence they were close. And Cromwell’s loyalty was to Henry, first and foremost.

Cromwell,Thomas HolbeinThere is no doubt that Cromwell was the engineer of Anne Boleyn’s fall. Whether he was the instigator is a different matter. Most readers will be familiar with the following incidents that are often used to incriminate Cromwell. Cromwell and Anne quarrelled. Anne had her chaplain preach a sermon which is usually construed as an attack on Cromwell’s character. And Cromwell would later take responsibility for Anne’s fall.

Anne and Cromwell did argue, in 1535. Chapuys reported on June 5th that “she and he had had words together, the Lady telling him, among other things, that she would like to see his head off his shoulders.” But Cromwell was unconcerned, telling Chapuys that “I trust so much on my master, that I fancy she cannot do me any harm.” Chapuys wrote that he could not tell “whether this is an invention of Cromwell in order to enhance his merchandise.1 We neither know if it happened at all, or if Cromwell exaggerated the affair. After all, Chapuys and Anne did not get along, and Cromwell may have thought being on the outs with Anne would win him more favour with Chapuys.

Scottish theologian Alexander Alesius would write to Elizabeth I more than twenty years later, with his own version of events.

As Crumwell attended at the Court daily, along with Wrotisley, the affair thus became known to the King himself. He was furious, but, dissembling his wrath, he summoned Crumwell, Wrotisley, and certain others, who, as report says, hated the Queen, because she had sharply rebuked them and threatened to inform the King that under the guise of the Gospel and religion they were advancing their own interests… To them he [Henry] intrusted the investigation of the whole business.

These spies, (because they greatly feared the Queen) watch her private apartments [cubiculum] night and day. They tempt her porter and serving man with bribes; there is nothing which they do not promise the ladies of her bedchamber…. Not long after this the persons returned who had been charged with the investigation of the rumours which had been circulated, everything having been arranged according to their entire satisfaction. They assure the King that the affair is beyond doubt; that they had seen the Queen dancing with the gentlemen of the King’s chamber, that they can produce witnesses who will vouch to the Queen having kissed her own brother, and that they have in their possession letters in which she informs him that she is pregnant.

Thereupon it was decided and concluded that the Queen was an adulteress, and deserved to be burnt alive.2

AnneBoleynNPGHistorian JohnSchofield called Alesius’s account “syrupy, sentimental nonsense”.3 While Alesius would have had the best of intentions when he wrote this emotional account of Anne Boleyn for her daughter, we do need to consider the account carefully. Alesius was keen to present Anne as a Protestant martyr, claiming that “True religion [Protestantism] in England had its commencement and its end with your mother4 which we know is not the case. But along with many other Protestants, Alesius would have been concerned with what direction Elizabeth would take in regards to religious tolerance.

We also know that no one but the men who were accused alongside Anne openly tried to defend her, but Alesius claimed that “those persons who previously had rejoiced at her misfortune out of their hatred to the doctrine of the religion which she had introduced into England, testified and proclaimed her innocence and chastity“. And it is unlikely that Cromwell would later blame his own fall on being punished by God for not “obey[ing Anne’s] directions in promoting the doctrine of the Gospel.5 However, it is Alesius’s account which ties in to the theory that the Passion Sunday sermon set the scene for a war between Cromwell and Anne.

The famous Passion Sunday sermon preached by John Skip, with Anne’s approval, may have been a verbal attack on the dissolution of the monasteries, among other things. Part of Skip’s sermon described the story of King Ahasuerus being tricked by his evil minster, Haman, into killing the Jews. But his good wife Esther stepped in and saved the Jews. This is usually interpreted as King Ahasuerus being an allegory for Henry, who is being tricked by his evil minister Cromwell, depicted as Haman. And of course Anne is Esther, who saves Henry from being led astray. But we cannot say that this sermon was only directed at Cromwell. This is just one interpretation. John Schofield points out Skip complained about Henry’s evil councillors, in the plural. In fact Schofield described other parts of the sermon, including Skip preaching about Solomon’s moral decline after taking many wives. Schofield points out this could be seen as an attack on Henry’s new affection for Jane Seymour.6 When Skip was later interrogated over the sermon the reference to Haman was not mentioned.

Cromwell taking responsibility for Anne’s fall is rather more curious. Writing to Charles V, Chapuys would relate a conversation with Cromwell. Cromwell apparently told Chapuys that:

“He, himself had been authorised and commissioned by the King to prosecute and bring to an end the mistress’s trial, to do which he had taken considerable trouble. It was he who, in consequence of the disappointment and anger he had felt on hearing the King’s answer to me on the third day of Easter, had planned and brought about the whole affair.”7

However, John Schofield was unsatisfied with this translation, believing a word had been mistranslated. He offered an alternative translation:

“On (or just after) the third day of Easter, the day when Cromwell was so disappointed and angry on hearing the king’s answer to me, Henry authorised and commissioned him to prosecute and bring to an end the mistress’s trial. Since then he was the one who planned and brought about the whole affair, which had taken him considerable trouble.”8

This alternative puts Cromwell’s apparent admission in a different context. Cromwell did work against Anne Boleyn, but only after he was ordered to and given the authority by his king. Both translations of the letter still note that Cromwell was authorised and commissioned to prosecute Anne. And as John Schofield wrote “Thomas Cromwell was the king’s servant, indebted to Henry and to nobody else. Should Henry’s love for Anne ever fade, Cromwell was duty bound to serve and support the king”.9

The two commissions of Oyer and Terminer issued on April 24th, for unspecified treasons, are also considered by some as proof of Cromwell’s guilt. Eric Ives speculated that because Henry’s signature was not on the patent that it may have been commissioned without his knowledge. But this seems unlikely. No queen consort had been arrested since Eleanor of Aquitane was arrested for treason in the twelfth century. It was not a common occurrence. How could Cromwell and Thomas Audley think they would have the power to have the Queen arrested without Henry’s involvement? It may be that Henry, Cromwell and Audley were using the Oyer and Terminer as insurance should they need it against Anne. But even this is speculation.

Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell and Lydia Leonard as Anne Boleyn in the RSC production of Wolf Hall.

Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell and Lydia Leonard as Anne Boleyn in the RSC production of Wolf Hall.

It is true that Thomas Cromwell did not attempt to intervene with Henry on Anne’s behalf, as he had done with Catherine. It is true he performed the task of bringing down Anne Boleyn with brutal efficiency. Cromwell easily implicated several innocent men along with the queen. This was a practicality. Anne committing adultery with a single man would have threatened Henry’s masculinity. This may sound strange, you may think that the sheer volume of Anne’s alleged lovers would humiliate Henry more. But the charges were designed to show Anne as an insatiable, lustful monster, and Henry as the victim. It worked, in its own way. Henry didn’t need people to believe his word. Only to accept it.

Of course it is not difficult to see why people continue to try and unravel the mystery behind Anne Boleyn’s fall. It is not difficult to understand why some people may believe Henry was somewhat duped, considering how quickly and absolutely his feelings changed for Anne. But to imagine that Thomas Cromwell was able to destroy Anne Boleyn without the king’s consent is stretching believability.

Cromwell was, above all, a practical man and an astute politician. Sadly for Anne she was no longer useful. She was bad for foreign relations. She had not provided Henry with a son. And Henry was rapidly losing interest in her. Henry wanted a new wife. And Cromwell had no reason to stick his neck out to save Anne. As far as Cromwell was concerned it was his duty to follow his king’s orders.

For some this may not make good fiction. Perhaps that is why recent fictional accounts of Cromwell have sought to find a different motive other than mere duty. But these don’t put Cromwell in a good light. They make him petty and vengeful, and vilify him as much as his alleged enemies. What I wonder is why no one ever tries to explore how Cromwell may have felt when he realised that his prosecution was not merely leading Queen Anne Boleyn to estrangement, but to the scaffold.

Notes and Sources

  1. Calendar of State Papers Spain June 1535 no. 170.
  2. Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Elizabeth, Volume 1, 1558-1559 no. 1303.
  3. Schofield, John The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell, The History Press, 2011, p. 161.
  4. Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Elizabeth, Volume 1, 1558-1559 no. 1303.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Schofield, John The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell, The History Press, 2011, p. 177.
  7. Calendar of State Papers Spain June 1536 no. 61.
  8. Schofield, p. 169.
  9. Ibid., p. 140.

56 thoughts on “The Real Wolf Hall – Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn”

  1. Marie Ford-McCartney says:

    He know what had happened to Wolsey. Cromwell, he wanted to keep his head too. Henry was no longer a gentle prince. The hit to the head did it! Again he had no heir and had almost died. Get rid of Anne, or your fate is the same as Wolsey. Maybe the sword was Cromwell’s idea .

    1. Susan Fletcher says:

      Henry was not only becoming tired of Anne, but I suspect was beginning to realise that if he did not get a son soon he may not be able to at all as the ill effects of his womanising days were beginning to show them selves (the sores on his legs) and he was not as “handsome” as before. Also he was probably realising that a home grown marriage had left the country somewhat vulnerable because Anne brought no dowry or valuable alliances with her such as would have occurred if he had married a foreign bride. So poor Anne was a fruit ripe for picking.

      1. Debbie Rice says:

        The sad thing is that the reason Anne didn’t give Henry a male heir was Henry’s fault because it’s the male that makes the sex of the child but that wasn’t known then…a sad story all the way around.

        1. Kathysky99 says:

          Absolutely correct. Too bad they didn’t know that back then. He kept blaming his wives for lack of a male heir.

      2. Charlene says:

        His sores weren’t due to womanizing; we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he didn’t have syphilis. (Also, the type of sore he suffered from simply isn’t ever a symptom of syphilis.)

        I suspect it was his last fall, the one that almost killed him, that triggered both the sores and his fear of dying without leaving a male heir.

      3. Melissa Krauss says:

        But he did pick another home grown Queen, so that reason doesn’t make any sense. He married Jane Seymour after Anne was executed. Henry VIII realized that he had made a mistake marrying Anne Boleyn at all, due to lack of heir, and her “non royal” attitude which was suitable for a mistress, but not for a Queen. Her constantly challenging him, arguing with him out of jealousy, etc.

  2. Globerose says:

    Absolutely fascinating, Claire. Recently read Catullus, Poem 11,’Bitter Notice of Divorce to Lesbia’, which goes:

    “Pass on these none too pleasant
    words to my girl:
    Let her live and flourish with her Adulterers
    whom she embraces 300 at a time,
    breaking their manhood;
    And let her not look to my love, as before,
    which has fallen by her fault like the flower
    on the edge of the field, touched
    by the passing plough.”

    The Roman poet’s lover was Clodia Metelli, a sexy, aristocratic, married woman, who had 5 (yes 5) lovers apart from Catullus himself. The poet’s exaggeration of 5 into 300 makes Henry’s mere 100 lovers pale in comparison. Both Henry and Catullus had been infatuated, besotted by this sensual woman of their dreams. They also both felt the ice cold freeze of rejection, scorned, ‘unmanned even’ and their affronted male egos assured them both that the woman’s lust was ‘insatiable’. They were not to blame. She was a monster of lust. Catullus had no power over this but Henry – that’s quite another matter. He is one very angry lion and “Heaven hath no rage like love turned to hatred.”
    I am with Suzannah Lipscombe on this, that Anne was not guilty but appeared to be so – a catastrophic collusion of co-incidences and that it is tragic beyond belief.

  3. SharonH says:

    Thomas Cromwell seemed to have no problem developing and engineering the downfall of Anne. IMO they never had anything approaching a positive relationship.

    I think it is also telling that, as Alison Weir points out in “The Lady in the Tower”, the swordsman from France had to have been summoned weeks before Anne’s trial and execution. Given the amount of time it took to travel to England from France, even in good weather, it was certainly more than just a few days. In other words, everyone knew how this affair was going to end.

    I’m not sure if any other author had mentioned that fact, but I never gave a thought as to how long it would have taken for the headman’s journey and how he seemed to be right there when needed. Very curious, indeed.

  4. Crystal says:

    I wonder if Henry, having chased Anne for so long, realized that the chase was more thrilling than the possession and that’s one reason why his affection for her dimmed so quickly.

    1. Charlene says:

      I don’t think he was ever that self-aware. Whenever anyone failed to please him, he was always able to concoct reasons why it was their fault entirely – and he believed them.

      When trying to understand Henry VIII it helps to have the DSM-V handy with a bookmark at the letter ‘N’.

  5. Esther says:

    Great article. I don’t believe that Cromwell had a motive to get rid of Anne. Eric Ives, in an article entitled “Anne Boleyn and the Early Reformation in England: The Contemporary Evidence” makes it clear that Anne opposed the secularization of all monastic lands. IMO, dissolution was Henry’s policy; he wanted that money for himself (Tracy Borman makes it clear that Cromwell couldn’t make policy, only enforce it). I think it significant that, when Jane Seymour begs Henry to restore the monastic system, she is told that Anne Boleyn met her fate for meddling too much in state affairs. Henry, however, did have a motive …. that Anne had a daughter but no sons (especially the last miscarriage) told him that G-d did not approve of his second marriage … and the jousting accident would make it clear that he didn’t have a lot of time.

    1. Hannele says:

      If Henry could order Anne’s execution even if he knew she was innocent, why did he simply let Anne murdered? Then he would have been saved from any dishonor.

      I think that Henry must have believed in Anne’s guilt. Of course he had good reasons to deceive himself.

      1. Esther says:

        David Starkey commented on a BBC special (“Last Days of Anne Boleyn”) that Henry believed that whatever was convenient for him happened to be true.. That Anne was guilty convenient for him (it made her the bad one, not him) — therefore, he believed it to be true. Having Anne murdered quietly would not turn her into the bad guy, so it wouldn’t be convenient for him.

  6. Barbara Loucks Vanderhoff says:

    All my reading of history states that Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, George’s wife gave evidence against Anne & George. not her aunt.

    1. melita says:

      Jane Boleyn, lady Rochford is meant as Elizabeth I aunt. 🙂

    2. Claire says:

      Olga has written ” The other, Elizabeth’s aunt, Jane Rochford, accused of giving the testimony that allowed Cromwell to accomplish his coup; taking down not only the Queen of England, but her brother and another four innocent men”, so she’s meaning that Jane was Elizabeth I’s aunt. There is controversy over whether Jane gave evidence against the Boleyns – see and

      1. Olga Hughes says:

        Yes I meant she was Elizabeth’s aunt, sorry if that was unclear. Do read those excellent articles on Jane, Barbara, she has been very unfairly treated.

  7. HollyDolly says:

    It’s possible Cromwell did clash with Anne over the dissolution of the monsteries and where the money should go,plus other factors may also have made them quarrel. BUT i don’t think he acted on his own to get rid of Anne. Herny would have to have given the okay to the whole thing, unless it was something similar to when St.Thomas of Canterbury was murdered because he was a pain in the side to Henry the Second.
    There is a lot more to this whole story and maybe in some dusty archive ,some papers will be found that will revel the real reason for the whole thing.
    Always we seem to come back to Jane Rochford,George’s wife.And I’ve seem mention of Lady Wingfield and some dying comfession she supposedly made.
    What in the world did Jane tell Cromwell or anyone else? When I read I think in Eric Ives book Anne Boleyn’s letter to Lady Wingfield I wonder if there might have been something between them more than just friendship? Not to accuse Anne of anything, but it is an odd letter, at least to my modern eyes.
    Or maybe Anne was meddling too much in state affairs. Catherine may have only whe it was neccessary .Seems to me she sent troops to fight the Scots at some point in their marriage when Henry was sick or visiting France.
    After all she was the daughter of the famous Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain,and a princess of royal blood, and aunt of the Holy Roman Emperor.. It was well within her scope as a queen and a daughter of famous parents that she should know how to help her husband run a country,especially if he was ill or at war.
    It was one thing for her to give advice to Henry ,but quite a different thing for Anne to do the same.Henry labeled Anne as a meddlar,were as Catherine would be considered a stateswoman and a politican.

    1. Hannele says:

      Something more than friendship? Because Anne used the word “love”? But then she says that her love for Lady Wingfield is second only to the love she feels towards her mother – i.e. love here means respect, affection and loyalty but not sexual love.

      Note that it was customary for a king to address his nobles f.ex. facing the rebellion: “Right trusty and well beloved, I pray for the love you bear toward us, gather your forces and come to us as quickly as possible…and you can be sure of our love.”

      Anne’s letter is sometimes interpreted as a proof that lady Wingfield blackmailed her because she knew something compromising of Anne’s past. That could be explain why the letter come among Cromwell’s papers – i.e. during the investigation about Anne.

      On the other hand, it can be that the letter is quite harmless and Anne says just what she means: she had neglected her friend but, having heard about her troubles, regretted her behavior and promised to do better. That is common even today between friends when one of them is busy with her new boyfriend and a higher status.

  8. Clare says:

    Great article, Olga. I love Ives’ biography of Anne, but I never bought into the ‘political coop’ theory, and even Ives’ has Jane Boleyn providing damning evidence against Anne and George.
    Perhaps Henry managed to convince himself of Anne’s guilt in order to ease his conscience, but if he had truely believed Norris was guilty he certainly wouldn’t have offered him a pardon if he confessed. Henry really was the ultimate hypocrite.
    I also agree that Wolf Hall doesn’t do Cromwell any favours. To portray him as petty and vindictive is a great injustice.

    1. Clare says:

      That should of course be ‘coup’!

    2. Olga Hughes says:

      I think both Ives and Starkey have Jane giving evidence against George in their books, both were written prior to Julia Fox releasing her research. It is going to be some time before writers start clearing Jane of her supposed crime.

      Henry certainly was. Offering Norris a pardon was just cruel, and evil.

  9. JudithRex says:

    “It is almost too difficult to accept that Henry VIII murdered his wife and got away with it easily”

    It is hard to accept because I don’t believe your opinion is correct. As I have said, it is my opinion he believed she was guilty of treason to him personally and as King he could not ignore it. So he did not “murder” her.

    1. Olga Hughes says:

      If Henry thought Anne was actually guilty of conspiring to procure the king’s death then he would not, as Clare Cherry mentioned above, had offered Norris a pardon if he confessed, as Norris was involved in that incident. If he thought she was guilty of adultery, then that was not treason, he had the marriage dissolved so it was technically not adultery, so he had no legal reason to execute her. I stand by my opinion that Anne Boleyn was judicially murdered, along with five innocent men.

      Henry “believed” whatever suited him. There were remarks on how cheerfully he was behaving during Anne’s trial and remarried after 11 days. After Catherine Howard’s betrayal he was devastated, openly and publicly, and did not marry again for almost 18 months.

    2. Selina says:

      Thinking that Henry really believed in Anne’s guilt speaks of a lack of knowledge about his nature.

  10. Leslie says:

    Great article. You have to love Anne for her wit and assertiveness, having Skip preach about the King led astray by his evil advisers. I had not heard about the part of the sermon relating to Soloman’s moral decline by taking many wives. This is interesting. Anne made her point, publicly.

    I believe, without a doubt, that the King was behind her fall, he had enough and wanted a new, less assertive wife to provide him a a son. Cromwell just carried out the orders, Henry gave them.

    1. JudithRex says:

      Saying you believe something is different from stating it as a fact. Believing is free. Fact is a bit different. 🙂

      1. Leslie says:

        Hi Judith. Yes, very wise 😉

        I don’t think anyone could definitively state “facts” given the many resources surrounding Anne’s fall. By saying “I believe”, it is an opinion. The only fact is that Henry VIII was King when Anne Boleyn was executed.

        1. Hannele says:

          Well, ultimately it is a question what we think about Henry’s character.

          Was he a man easily deceived by others? Then Cromwell could dupe him.
          Or was he a man who could do what he knew was wrong? Then he could order Cromwell to invent a plot and get Anne killed even if he knew she was innocent.
          Or was he a man who believed what he needed, so his conscience could be clear? Then he sincerely believed in Anne’s guilt because he wanted to get rid of her but wanted also believe he was a good man.

  11. Sharon says:

    Great article, Olga!

    1. Olga Hughes says:

      Thanks Sharon 🙂

  12. Banditqueen says:

    I don’t believe Cromwell wanted Anne out of the way due to the quarrel with her over the way that the monies and lands from the small monasteries was being allocated to the nobles before the bill to take them over had fully became statute law, rather than the buildings being put to better use. Anne may have had strong moral objections to the sale of monastic lands but the truth is, although she fell out with and challenged Cromwell over this, it was not sufficient to be a serious threat to Cromwell. On the contrary the minister seems to have shrugged off Anne’s threats and was confident enough to believe that Anne was not going to do him harm.

    So what changed? Why did Anne suddenly make her feelings about Cromwell public? I would suggest that Anne felt increasingly isolated, feared losing the protection of the King, and genuinely felt that Cromwell was misusing his power. In addition her own political position had become untenable. Anne no longer had the influence in certain domestic or even foreign mattets with Henry in private that she once had. Cromwell had been pushing his own pro Imperial agenda, forming a foreign policy with Chaprys which would he hoped push Henry towards the Emperor, but it had backfired. Henry was angry when Chapyus came to count to propose that Mary be reinstated into the succession, that some contact with Rome be arranged, in return for recognition of Anne as Queen, and he made his feelings clear, demanding that he receive a full apology for the way Spain had treated him. But it was Cromwell that he took his real anger out on. We don’t know what Henry really said but it left Cromwell in distress. Cromwell appears to have decided that Anne was in the way, he could only ratify an alliance with Spain if Anne was sidelined. He did not actively plan to set up Anne in the way which transpired.

    However, Henry had for some reason begun to feel Anne should go, and I believe that he met with Cromwell and suggested that he wanted a new wife. I find the evidence, small as it may be, that he then gave some thought to a way to set Anne up and so accommodate the king compelling. I don’t accept that he cooked up the entire thing, but he did act to twist things which came out of his investigation into the rumours that Anne had misbehaved. Cromwell certainly targeted Mark Smeaton as the most vulnerable person, possibly he had heard Mark had mooned over the queen and then, undet pressure, waited for him to squeel. Once Mark named others Cromwell and the investigation took on a life of its own, with Cromwell and his minions only too ready to twist things, accuse and to invent in order to make a convincing case to set up the queen at all costs, just to please the king. I believe that Henry was genuinely shocked and believed the evidence that Cromwell provided, even though it was invented, but as the first charges and arrests were made, you can see both Henry and Cromwell contribute to a stitch up, determined to be rid of the queen regardless of guilt. Cromwell saw an opportunity and took it, Henry did not care, he was too full of hurt, anger and revenge to give a damn. Once the case was made, it was clear that the fate of the accused was sealed, Henry made up his mind all were guilty, Cromwell was determined to deliver the goods, to serve up a guilty verdict at all costs. That is what good royal servants do.

    1. Cate says:

      Yes, this is an excellent summary of how Mantel presents Cromwell’s process of getting rid of Anne, and I agree with you that it’s very plausible, that it must have happened in much this same fashion, given the characters of all the people involved and the constraints of law, court life, and personal politics.

      The King expressed a desire, perhaps clearly, perhaps vaguely, and Cromwell as his secretary implemented it: he put the wheels in motion, only to uncover rather more dirt than was expected, which could then be fleshed out to make an indisputable case for both annulment and execution—which may not have been Henry’s intention at the outset, but which became the inevitable and necessary end, if the king was to remarry.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Hi Cate, I also believe that Anne’s downfall came as a result of a number of people working against her and circumstances. The Aragonese party at court, temporarily out of favour and which had been in decline began to become back into ascendancy. This party was made up of the old families and friends of Catherine of Aragon and the traditional nobles, but now they were joined by others, including Fitzwiliam and Suffolk, appear to have united with the Seymours and Cromwell also appears to have been persuaded to support their cause in favour of Jane Seymour and Princess Mary. Although this support may have been on the quiet the supporters of Mary were gaining confidence during the last few months of Anne’s reign. Together with the slight Cromwell felt over the blockage of his secret foreign policy, which was contrary to Anne’s pro French stance played to the gathering storm raging around Anne. Henry now wanted out, he needed a new start, a male heir, rumours began about the queen who had numerous enemies and the circumstances opened up which led to her arrest and tragic death. Once Smeaton talked Cromwell knew he could make a case and this is what he did. Henry need not go through another divorce, the fiction of a treason trial solved all of his problems and got rid of the Boleyn faction at court.

        1. Cate says:

          Yes, exactly. I suspect that the experience with Katherine sensitised key courtiers and govt officials, like Cromwell, to the importance of reading, interpreting, and even anticipating the king’s wishes.

          Anne’s downfall was one of those things that took on a life of its own as a result of several factors that all conspired against her continuing as queen and wife of the King. After her miscarriage, the people in positions to benefit from her downfall, such as the Seymour faction, moved in for the kill.

          I often wonder if Anne knew at that point that she was pretty much finished. Certainly, Genevieve Bujold as Anne in “Anne of a Thousand Days” makes it pretty clear that Anne knew her time was up from the time of that final miscarriage.

  13. Cate says:

    On the portrayal of Cromwell in Wolf Hall as “petty” and “vindictive”: I’ve read both books twice and watched the BBC series, and I have to say I don’t see Mantel’s reading of Cromwell as being that simple. The issues and characters are very complex, of course, but I think Mantel makes it quite plain that Cromwell’s prime motivation was loyalty to the king, and that he was essentially finding a way to do what Henry wanted done, which was to get rid of Anne, to clear the way for marriage to Jane Seymour, and to ensure that Seymour’s children (if any) would take precedence over Mary and Elizabeth. If, in this process, Cromwell saw an opportunity to take revenge on the petty lords who had humiliated him and his beloved master Wolsey—as Mantel suggests—, well, that adds to the complexity of her portrait of him, helping to show him as multi-faceted and conflicted to varying degrees, and therefore very very realistic. But it is well to remember that any resemblance between Mantel’s Cromwell and the real historical Cromwell, the man, must remain entirely coincidental, as the former is a work of imagination, a fictional character, however plausible and real he may seem. Would we could go back in time and discover the truth…. 🙂

    1. Hannele says:

      Cromwell also loses himself: he is in love with Jane Seymour and arranges the trip to Wolf Hall in order to propose to her but, noticing that Henry has fallen for her, knows that he must abandon his plan.

      Cromwell is also drawn to Mary Boleyn, and at least once in his imagination to Anne, but he does not act on his urges.

      In other words, Cromwell is governed by reason, Henry by lust. But Henry is the king and he must get what he lusts for, however unreasonable and bad for his realm it is.

      I think the crux of the matter whether you look at what Cromwell says or what he does. He says that Anne has no limits, i.e. she can do whatever bad. But in reality Anne only talks, she has power to act. It is Cromwell who does anything bad in order to stay alive and in power.

      As for revenging on those who has humiliated him of Wolsey.But did not Norris actually help Wolsey when Henry humiliated him by loaning him his chamber?

      And it was Wolsey who first humiliated Percy even in front of others. If revenge is ok for Cromwell, Anne had a right to revenge on Wolsey – and much more reason for it.

      Most of all, Wolsey’s fate was in Henry’s hands. Was the revenge on the Norris and other men in fact a delusion because his conscience accused him that that he served Henry?

    2. Olga Hughes says:

      I must say Cate, it’s my opinion that when someone is portrayed as allowing innocent people to be executed out of revenge, and exalts in their death, then I believe that they are being portrayed as a murderer, and not as complex.

      1. Cate says:

        Of course Cromwell was a murderer. I don’t debate that and I am certainly not exonerating him.

        My point was that the motives for those murders—-as suggested by Mantel— went beyond “petty and “vindictive”. Like everyone else in Henry’s court, Cromwell was concerned to second-guess the king and figure out how best to advance the king’s ambitions, as well as his own, of course.

        I am also interested in fictional portrayals of historical characters because of the insights that skilfull authors like Mantel can offer into the psychology and motivations of those characters—insights which have to be inferred from historical records. (And I think it’s important to remember that we can’t really know the truth about what happened in that court. We are all speculating, so no-one has the final answer. Mantel’s portrayal is only a possibility.)

        Whether speculative or not, motivation is not always clear or simple when other factors come into play (Henry’s need for a male heir, the ambitions of the Seymour faction, etc etc): complex situation, complex characters—-and I think most historians would agree with me that we are still discussing those events and people today precisely because they were so complex. If it were all cut and dried, there would be nothing to discuss. 😀

        1. Olga Hughes says:

          I did not say anywhere that Cromwell was a murderer. I do not believe Cromwell was a murderer.
          There is no historical record that infers Cromwell was out for revenge over Wolsey’s death, or that the men executed alongside Anne ridiculed Wolsey in a play.

        2. Clare says:

          But Mantel suggested Cromwell chose the men because they acted in a play (a fictional device in itself) where Wolsey was dragged to hell. If the real Cromwell had killed innocent men using that as a supposed motivation then that would have definitely been petty and vindictive. He was a far more pragmatic man than that. Mantel’s weird fictional device didn’t show him as complex to me, it showed him as a monster. I don’t think Cromwell was a monster.

        3. Hannele says:

          I do not think that, considering the time he lived in, Cromwell can be called a murderer. Rather, he was a player in the power play and according to the rules of the game the loser often lost his life – and if somebody was not capable to do that to his opponents, they would do it to him. Just as his opponents later did to Cromwell.

          What actually is new in Mantel’s novels is that she shows Anne not as a victim but as one who had deliberately chosen to play the power game and who was just as tough and vindictive as the other players. Therefore her fate is not be pitied.

          As all is seen Cromwell’s POV, he, as a self-made man dependent only on his own capabilities, despises all courtiers as shallow and incompetent flatterers or, in Anne’s case, as a sexual manipulator.

          Therefore, I really cannot see that Mantel offers any insights int the psychology or motivation of any other characters except Cromwell. She cannot because we never get to know what they think or feel, only how Cromwell sees them and, most of all, what gossip he hears about them.

          Mantel shows the court as a place where everybody lies with everybody, ladies confess unfavorable things about Anne to Cromwell and men use dirty words about the king and queen among themselves.

          In Mantel’s version the things were not planned but Cromwell seized the opportunity that was offered him at random. And if even Cromwell knew the truth, how could we?

      2. Cate says:

        Sorry, I misread your comment about murder–as my comment was about Cromwell and you replied to it I assumed you were also talking about Cromwell.

        In any case, I completely agree with you that there is nothing in the historical record to suggest any revenge motive on Cromwell’s part based on any masques or whatever. Mantel is a writer of fiction, not history. Her books do not serve up history, they serve up one writer’s imagined version of what might have happened,. She attempts to explain historical events and characters in psychological terms that may or may not be accurate, but that make a good story.

        This is why I am always careful to specify that I am talking about Mantel and not about the historical record, as is clear I hope in my previous comments. We must not confuse one with the other. The history of Henry’s court is not accurately portrayed in either “The Tudors” or “Wolf Hall” or “Anne of A Thousand Days” or any other fictional treatment, simply because the purpose of fiction is quite different from the purpose of historiography.

  14. Christine says:

    Henry was no different from any other man who has ever murdered his wife in cold blood because he tired of her, whether it be by poison or strangulation or throwing her down the stairs, or drowning her in the bath, the only difference is he hid it under a nauseating veneer of self righteous indignation, and so called English Justice, a complete mockery of anything fair and just!

    1. Hannele says:

      Do you actually know any case where a man has murdered his wife simply because he has tired of her? I know none.

      In order to murder his wife a husband must hate her. Besides, only poisoning is probably done in cold blood. But mostly a husband simply kills his wife without planning when when a quarrel leads him to assault her to death with his hands or a knife – after which there is no doubt who was guilty.

      The second motive for a wife’s murder is that a husband gains something very important from her death, like money or marriage with somebody else, but even then he must either hate her or be completely without empathy.

      Henry of course wanted marry Jane Seymour and beget an son by her. But if he deliberately murdered Anne he must really hate her – perhaps because the memories how he had fallen for her and turned his country upside down in order to marry her caused him so much shame that he only could accuse her of it instead taking the responsibility of his own actions.

    2. Hannele says:

      The third motive to a man to murder his wife is jealousy because she had betrayed him (or he suspects it) which hurts his “honor” in his own and other’s eyes.

      That fits for the case of Catherine Howard, but is not impossible regarding Anne.

      The main point, Henry being no different from another men, I think it leads astray. As a king he was above the law and, even more importantly, was constantly flattered and never criticized which caused an ego like any other.

      In any case, Katherine cannot be understand in terms of today’s middle-age and middle-class wife, and a man who had Henry’s genes but was not a king in the 16th century would not have acted like he did.

      1. Christine says:

        I merely meant that Henry V111 was no different from any other husband murderer, just because he wore a crown.

        1. Hannele says:

          But was Katherine also no different than any middle-aged wife whose husband wanted divorce? No, her Spanish royal background and deep religiosity make her different and explain her behavior.

          As I said, Henry would or could not have acted in the manner if he had not been a King. On the hand, no king acted like him.

          Besides, we really did not know whether Henry believed in Anne’s guilt or not.

  15. Joseja says:

    Cromwell and Henry were almost a textbook case of Folie-a-Deux, I’d say.

  16. Christine says:

    I can’t understand Lady Worcester saying the things she did to her brother about the Queen, didn’t she realise it was highly dangerous to speak that way about her? To say the Quuen entertains men in her chambers was tantamount to saying she was sleeping around, unwittingly she started of the chain of events that followed I believe Cromwell got to hear of that conversation and decided to turn it to his advantage, but what a foolish woman or maybe she didn’t like Anne, could well have been jealous of her, I think many women were, she had been Henrys darling and spoilt rotton for seven long years, he had turned the kingdom upside down for her that was bound to cause sullen resentment , Mantel says she thinks Anne’s downfall was due to a series of events that just got out of control, started by her ladies gossiping, but at the end of the day, Cromwell framed her with the most ridiculous charges and it was Henrys choice that she died with no thought at all for little Elizabeth.

    1. Hannele says:

      “Entertaining men in her chamber” means “sleeping around”?

      Not at all. It was customary to have private parties in the privy chamber with music, dancing, flirting etc.

      Somebody wrote about Anne’s coronation that she was having with he ladies more fun in her chamber than ever before.

      What was dangerous in Lady Worcester’s words that, after her brother accused that her baby was not begot by her husband, she did not deny it but instead said that she was no worse than the Queen.

      People say things like that when they are in anger or terrified and want to turn the danger from herself to some other.

      However, what if Lady Worcester had some reason to get rid of Anne? Anne had loaned money to Lady Worcester. Did she use that money to something she wanted to hide from others, particularly from her brother and husband? Or was Anne the only who knew the truth of the Lady Worcester’s baby?

      Sadly, Anne evidently regarded Lady Worcester as her friend and did not suspect her even in the Tower.

  17. Christine says:

    I didn’t mean the term entertaining men means sleeping around, I meant that Lady Worcester appeared to imply it when she said it to her brother, yes I’d heard Lady Worcester had been lent money from Anne and her reputation wasn’t to good but I think she was just annoyed with her brother for having a go at her and it’s then perfectly natural to bring other women into it ‘ she’s no better because…’ So many women have said that down the centuries but I think Lady Worcester wether she was Anne’s friend or not should have been more careful, Cromwell had his spies everywhere and Worcester’s brother probably mentioned it to some other guy when they were drinking and so it go’s around, highly dangerous for Anne and her so called lovers, I’m glad in fact that Anne never knew that her so called friend had said that about her, to be betrayed by a friend is devastating.

  18. JudithRex says:

    Please delete my comments from this tread.

    Any board that sanctions someone quoting Adolf Hitler saying America is a mongrel nation is not a board I want to be seen on,

    My crime was calling England “small” compared to France and Spain and for that a racist and vicious attack was made on me and Clare (not Claire) said I should apologize, as though quoting Hitler and calling England small in 1530s was the same thing!

    I have made screen shots of the entire thread and will keep them as evidence of the continued blatant racism and obvious historical ignorance of the nice ladies of England.

    1. Claire says:

      I don’t believe that Christine was quoting Hitler or meaning to be like him, she was probably referring to the title of the Eddie Izzard series (2003) about the ethnic origins of the English. And I didn’t sanction her comment. As soon as her comment was brought to my attention by Melissa I stepped in and then Christine apologised. I don’t see every comment, I only have to moderate ones that get caught in the spam filter. Christine was out of line and has apologised. Melissa accepted her apology and people were ready to move on, but it’s you stirring as you seem to like to do that is keeping this going. You keep going on and on. We’ve had months, actually over a year, of you attacking other commenters, accusing people of things they haven’t done, causing offence, driving people from this site and seemingly revelling in it and never apologising. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to step into disagreements started by you to try and calm things down and I’ve had so many complaints about you. People are going to finally flip and say something out of line and something they regret when someone keeps provoking them. I don’t condone it, I’m not saying it’s right, but you can’t play victim like this after what you have inflicted on others over the months. You keep saying how you dislike this website, you hate my “bodice ripper novel approach to history”, you’ve questioned my intelligence and you have problems with people who comment so it’s time for you to leave.

      1. Claire says:

        Having just googled “Mongrel Nation”, there are sooooo many references – the well-known TV series I mentioned, plus books, Members of Parliament doing speeches using the phrase, University papers, Obama using the phrase about African-Americans, the Smithsonian using it to describe America in a positive way, the Biblical book of Zechariah… Why does Christine have to be referring to Hitler?

  19. Maybeth says:

    I think Henry was solely responsible. The fact that he continued to behave lovingly toward her up until the last month or less is just an example of how calculating and cruel he was to achieve his goal. He laid a trap and caught her in it. I read somewhere–sorry I can’t remember where–maybe it was here?–that Anne Boleyn didn’t know why she was being sent to the Tower until after she arrived there…that it was possible she might have thought it was for her safety under some threat to the king or something. I think he despised her by then and I don’t think he considered Elizabeth her child but his so whatever she said or whatever she wrote to him had no influence whatsoever on Elizabeth’s future or his.

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