Could Anne Boleyn really have been guilty of murder?

Dive into the intriguing story of Henry VIII’s first wife as we explore claims made by Philippa Gregory and delve into historical events like the deaths of Bennett Curwen and Alice Tryppytt. Did Anne poison them, or is it all just a wild rumour?

Join me as I uncover the truth behind these accusations…


The question I’m looking at today is whether Anne Boleyn was a murderer.

Yes, you heard that right!

In my copy of The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, the famous novel that was made into two films, there is a Q&A section. In part of her answer to a question about whether Anne Boleyn really slept with her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, to get pregnant and give Henry VIII a son, Gregory states that “Anne was not a woman to let something like sin or crime stand in her way—she was clearly guilty of one murder.”

This isn’t in the novel, this is in the Q&A section at the back of the book asking Gregory about the real history behind the book. Gregory is stating there that Anne committed at least one murder?

Hmmm… whose?

I can only assume she’s talking about the deaths of Bennett Curwen and Alice Tryppytt in 1531. Bennett and Alice were two poor people who had visited the house of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, on 18th February 1531 requesting alms, as in money to help them. They’d been fed some left over soup or pottage that had been originally served to the bishop and his guests. According to Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, all who tasted it, including the household servants, were ill and “on the point of death”, apart from Fisher, who didn’t have any, but Bennett and Alice died, perhaps because they were more vulnerable, of poorer health.
Chapuys goes on to say that the bishop’s cook was apprehended straight away, thanks for Bishop Fisher’s brother. When questioned, he “confessed at once that he had actually put into the broth some powders, which he had been given to understand would only make his fellow servants very sick without endangering their lives or doing them any harm.”

Henry VIII persuaded Parliament to pass a bill, the Acte for Poysoning, which attainted the cook, Richard Roose, of high treason and made it high treason to kill anyone by poison. Roose was boiled to death at Smithfield on 5th April 1531.

Chapuys went on to say, “The King has certainly shewn some displeasure at this, but whatever demonstrations of sorrow he makes he will not be able to avert suspicion from falling, if not on himself, for he is too noble-minded to have resource to such means—at least on the Lady and her father” – the Lady and her father being the king’s sweetheart, Anne Boleyn, and her father, Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde.

In “The life and death of the renowned John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester”, an 18th century work but described as “carefully selected from ancient records”, Richard Roose isn’t the cook at all, but is someone who knew the cook and so was able to access the kitchen. While the cook went into the buttery, he added deadly poison into a gruel being prepared for the bishop’s dinner. Bishop Fisher had no appetite, but others did and “never recovered their healths till their dying day”, and it states that Bennet Curwen and an old widow “died suddenly”. Interestingly, the book goes on to tell of another attempt on the bishop’s life when “a cannon-bullet” was “shot through his house, close by his study window”. The book alleges that the came from the Earl of Wiltshire’s house”.

I’ve only seen mention of this cannonball attack in later sources, 18th and 19th centuries, so I don’t think we can take it at all seriously, and historian Dr Lauren Mackay, notes that Thomas Boleyn’s house was 2 and a half miles across the river, so it really would have been impossible with the weaponry of the time, to aim accurately at the bishop’s study window.

With regards to the poisoned pottage, Chapuys states that he was not able to “ascertain who it was who gave the cook such advice, nor for what purpose.” But rumours were bound to be rife that the king and/or the Boleyns had tried to get rid of Bishop Fisher. He was a thorn in their side. He was Catherine of Aragon’s chief supporter in fighting the annulment of her marriage, defending her and her case at the Blackfriars Legatine Court in 1529. Not only that, he was also opposing the king on religion. He was a complete pain, but there was absolutely no evidence that the Boleyns or the king had stooped so low as to try and kill him.

If Philippa Gregory is laying those deaths and the attempt on Fisher’s life at Anne’s feet, then I’d have to disagree.

And it could be said that Anne and her family played their part in the fall of Cardinal Wolsey, like Wolsey’s other enemies at court, but it was only when it became clear that the cardinal wasn’t working for the king’s cause that Henry VIII acted against him, and although he may well have ended up being executed, Wolsey died of dysentery while travelling to London to answer the charges against him. No, not a murder there.

Is Gregory blaming Anne Boleyn for the executions of Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More? I don’t know. They were executed because they refused to acknowledge the king as supreme head of the church, and I guess you could say that Henry broke with Rome because the pope refused to issue the annulment and Henry was determined to marry Anne. But, that’s very convoluted, isn’t it, and can’t be seen as Anne murdering them?

Oh, and I also have to disagree with Gregory’s words, “Anne was not a woman to let something like sin or crime stand in her way”. I think as a pious woman with a very real faith, she was definitely a woman to worry about committing a sin or crime. She wasn’t perfect, she wasn’t an angel, but to contemplate murder, I don’t think so. There’s a huge difference about ranting about wanting someone out of the way, and actually killing a person.

It’s a very weird claim, isn’t it, and strange to state it as fact. Am I missing something, could Gregory be referring to something else? Please do let me know your thoughts.

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6 thoughts on “Was Anne Boleyn a Murderer?”
  1. I don’t like Gregory much and whilst she tells a good story I feel her historical theories are way of the scale, as an historian she seems to deviate towards the frankly ridiculous, Anne’s enemies used to accuse her of plotting both Katherine and Mary’s deaths and whilst she did blurt out foolishly that when the king was away she would cause harm to Mary and also declared she wished all Spaniards were in the sea, as you mention these were just words and people when angry do come out with such remarks about the objects of their fury, but actual plotting their deaths is another thing and Gregory who has also accused Anne of being very ruthless does appear to think that she could have been responsible for the poisoning of Bishop Fishers household, I do not agree as we know, this lady may have been ambitious and capable of making spiteful remarks and for being quite vindictive, but a murderess she was not, she was no lady Macbeth no Lucretia Borgia, she was very pious deeply religious and knew that had she stained her hands with blood, she would go to purgatory, she was I believe too intelligent to risk such extreme action and whilst she may curse at Fisher and More and all of Katherine’s supporters, she was confident that soon Henry would be free to marry her, we have to remember Katherine’s death also was lain at Anne’s door and such rumours were spread by Anne’s detractors, fifty years after her death her reputation was blasted again when the Catholic recusant Nicholas Sander painted a very black picture of her indeed, she was the Jezebel that had split England from Rome, she had given birth to a deformed foetus and she had big moles and warts her tooth stuck out etc, so embroidering the fact that she was also a witch for witches have warts and big teeth….. the 18th century book on Fishers life claimed to have had ancient sources but surely the idea of a cannon bullet whizzing into the cardinals window is a bit far fetched, the sources it remarks upon could really have been taken from the Boleyn families enemies? Thomas Boleyn was too far away for him to have tried to take aim at Fisher, it appears this was just a tale cooked up (excuse the pun) to discredit Henry’s intended queen, she was hated amongst the catholics and Gregory should realise this, Anne was responsible though not directly for the executions of both Fisher and More as she created that situation where Henry had to break with Rome in order to marry her, and many say she was responsible for Wolsey’s decline, but he did die of dysentery on his way to London, on his way to being tried for high treason, but at the end of the day, it was always down to Henry V111 who decided who should live and who should die, he decided to marry Anne and he decided to separate Katherine from her daughter, with Fisher and More the latter whom he had been a friend and admirer of, could have lived had the king wanted them to, certainly Mores death haunted him and he had a bit of a dig at Anne, in the documentary about Anne’s last days Gregory referred to the incest charge and that she was very ruthless, again like the poisoning incident she keeps us guessing, she never actually stated she thought Anne slept with her brother to get a child, but she infers as such, a woman has to be totally depraved to risk the flames of hell to become pregnant, and such a theory to me disintegrates into the air on Anne’s swearing on damnation of her soul that she had never betrayed the king, she may have been many things but a murduress she was not, she was a most controversial woman and queen, our most controversial in fact, but in the end she was just another victim of King Henry V111.

  2. I totally agree with you Claire and also you, Christine! Anne was no murderer. “The Other Boleyn Girl” is incredibly historically inaccurate. We all say things in anger, but that doesn’t mean we’ll actually carry out the deeds. I think Anne heartily disliked Bishop Fisher, Katherine and Mary, but I don’t believe that she would have harmed them; nor do I believe the Boleyn family was responsible for the poisoning at Fisher’s house.

    This was an excellent video! I recommend this site to my Literature students because it has very accurate and engaging information.

    1. Yes I find this is the best website on Anne, i myself have learnt such a lot about Anne and her family including her equally fascinating brother George.

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