to be she ensnared by a conspiracy, the victim of her own loose tongue, or simply guilty together charged? Suzannah Lipscomb tries to unearth the genuine reason why Henry VIII sent out his 2nd wife, ann Boleyn, come the block



On the morning of 19 might 1536, ann Boleyn climbed the scaffold set up on Tower Green, in ~ the walls of the Tower that London. She gave a decided praising the goodness and mercy the the king, and also asked those gathered to pray for her. Climate she eliminated her fine, ermine-trimmed gown, and also knelt under – and the high-quality French executioner that Henry VIII had actually ordered swung his sword and “divided her neck in ~ a blow”.

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Her death is so familiar to us that the is difficult to imagine just how shocking the would have actually been: the queen of England executed on fees of adultery, incest and also conspiring the king’s death. And not just any queen: this was the woman for who Henry VIII had abandoned his mam of virtually 24 years, waited seven long years come wed, and also even revolutionised his country’s church. Yet just three years later on her head to be off – and also the reason for her death remains among the good mysteries of English history.


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To this day, historians cannot agree why she had to die. Had Henry and Anne’s relationship gone into terminal decline, prompting Henry to develop the charges versus his wife? Was thomas Cromwell responsible because that Anne’s demise? Or was she indeed guilty the the charges laid versus her? evidence is limited – however there is sufficient to show up to support several an extremely different conclusions.


There space a variety of undisputed truth relating to Anne’s fall. On Sunday 30 April 1536 note Smeaton, a musician indigenous the queen’s household, was arrested; he to be then interrogated in ~ Cromwell’s residence in Stepney. ~ above the same evening the king postponed a trip with anne to Calais, planned because that 2 May.

The following day, 1 May, Smeaton was relocated to the Tower. Henry to visit the might Day jousts at Greenwich but left abruptly top top horseback with a little group that intimates. These had Sir Henry Norris, a personal body servant and one of his the next friends, whom he doubted throughout the journey. In ~ dawn the next day Norris was required to the Tower. Anne and also her brothers George, lord Rochford, were likewise arrested.


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On 4 and also 5 May, more courtiers native the king privy chamber – william Brereton, Richard Page, Francis Weston, cutting board Wyatt and Francis Bryan – to be arrested. The last was questioned and also released, yet the others to be imprisoned in the Tower. ~ above 10 May, a cool jury indicted all of the accused, apart from Page and also Wyatt.

On 12 May, Smeaton, Brereton, Weston and also Norris were tried and found guilty the adultery through the queen, and also of conspiring the king’s death. ~ above 15 May, Anne and also Rochford to be tried in ~ the Tower by a court of 26 partner presided end by your uncle, the battle each other of Norfolk. Both were discovered guilty of high treason. ~ above 17 might Archbishop cutting board Cranmer claimed the marital relationship of Henry and Anne null, and also by 19 May, all 6 convicted had actually been executed. Later that day, Cranmer issued a dispensation permitting Henry and also Jane Seymour to marry; they to be betrothed ~ above 20 May and married 10 work later.

What might explain this rapid and surprising revolve of events? The first theory, suggested by Boleyn biographer and scholar GW Bernard, is just that ann was guilty that the charges versus her. Yet even he is equivocal, saying the Scottish legal decision of ‘not proven’ – he concludes that, though the proof is poor to prove definitively the Anne and those accused v her were guilty, no does that prove your innocence.


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Anne’s guilt was, naturally, the main line. Creating to the bishop the Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, Cromwell proclaimed with certainty – before Anne’s psychological – the “the queen’s incontinent living to be so rank and common the the ladies of she privy chamber can not conceal it.”

The crucial piece of evidence was certainly the confession by the first man accused, Smeaton, the he had had sexual intercourse with the queen 3 times. Though it was probably obtained under torture (the account vary), he never retracted his confession. Unlikely as it to be to it is in true, that catapulted the examination to a different, far more serious level. Every subsequent evidence was tainted with a presumption the guilt. Henry VIII’s intimate questioning of Norris, and his promise of “pardon in instance he would certainly utter the truth”, should be taken in this light: whatever Norris said, or refuse to say, it reinforced Henry’s conviction of his guilt.

Other evidence for Anne’s guilt is unclear – the trial records do no survive. Her indictment, however, says that ann “did falsely and traitoroysly procure by base conversations and kisses, touchings, gifts and other well known incitations, divers that the king daily and also familiar servants come be she adulterers and concubines, so that several… surrendered to she vile provocations”. She even, that charges, “procured and incited she own natural brother… to hurt her, alluring him with her tongue in the said George’s mouth, and the claimed George’s tongue in hers”. Yet, as another Boleyn biographer Eric Ives noted, three-quarters of the particular accusations the adulterous liaisons do in the indictment can be discredited, even 500 year later.

True wedded wife

Certainly, Anne maintained her innocence. Throughout her imprisonment teacher William Kingston, constable of the Tower, report Anne’s remarks to Cromwell. His an initial letter details Anne’s ardent declaration of innocence: “I am together clear native the company of man, together for sin… together I am clean from you, and the king’s true wedded wife.”

A couple of days later, ann comforted herself the she would have actually justice: “She claimed if any man accuse me I have the right to say but nay, and also they can bring no witness.” Crucially, the night before her execution, she swore “on risk of her soul’s damnation”, before and also after receiving the Eucharist, that she was innocent – a severe act in that religious age.

Anne was no alone in professing she innocence. As Sir Edward Baynton put it: “No male will confess any type of thing against her, yet only mark of any type of actual thing.” and also even Eustace Chapuys, ambassador because that the holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Anne’s arch-enemy, would ultimately conclude the everyone besides Smeaton was “condemned upon presumption and certain indications, without valid proof or confession”.

Another collection of historians have favoured the explanation that ann was the victim of a conspiracy by cutting board Cromwell and a court faction involving the Seymours. This rests top top a view of Henry together a pliable king whose courtiers might “bounce” the into activity and guideline him “by a crisis” into rejecting Anne. However why need to Anne and Cromwell, erstwhile allies the a reformist bent, loss out? distinctions of opinion are thought come have emerged over the usage of funds from the dissolved of the monasteries, and also matters of international policy – seemingly slender motives for ruining a queen.

It has been suggested that Cromwell’s court faction intended to replace Anne v Jane Seymour. Chapuys pointed out Jane in a letter that 10 February 1536, reporting the Henry had sent her a gift that a purse complete of sovereigns, accompanied by a letter. She go not open the letter, which – Ives speculated – included a summons come the royal bed. Instead, she kissed it and also returned it, asking the messenger come tell the king that “there to be no treasure in this world that she valued as much as she honour,” and also that if the king want to offer her a present, she begged it could be at “such a time as God would be pleased to send she some helpful marriage”.

Such a calculated answer is memory of Anne during the job of her courtship with Henry. In an answer to Jane’s coyness, Henry’s love for her was stated to have “marvellously increased”. However she was explained as a lady who the king “serves” – a telling word implying the he seek her as his ‘courtly love’ mistress. Over there is small evidence that, prior to Anne to be accused that adultery, Henry had actually planned to do Jane his wife. Marriage to mrs was, surely, a symptom and also a product of Anne’s downfall, no a cause.

The pivotal piece of proof for a conspiracy is a comment made by Cromwell come Chapuys after Anne’s death. In a letter to Charles V, Chapuys created that Cromwell had actually told him “il se mist a fantasier et conspirer le dict affaire,” which has actually been interpreted as “he collection himself to devise and also conspire the claimed affair,” saying that Cromwell plotted versus Anne.

Crucially, however, this phrase is regularly used the end of context. The previous sentence states that “he himself had actually been authorised and also commissioned through the king come prosecute and bring come an finish the mistress’s trial, to do which he had actually taken substantial trouble.” If we expropriate this account, that is difficult to i have dissolved Henry VIII indigenous the photo – Cromwell asserted not to be acting alone.

It has been proposed, therefore, the Henry inquiry Cromwell to remove Anne. David Starkey argued that “Anne’s proud and also abrasive character soon ended up being intolerable to she husband”. JJ Scarisbrick, writer of the authoritative volume Henry VIII, agreed: “What had actually once been devastating infatuation turned into bloodthirsty loathing, for reasons we will never fully know.”

Lovers’ quarrels

Evidence because that this see is taken native the works of the ever-hopeful Chapuys. As a Catholic and a support of Catherine the Aragon, he referred to Anne as “the concubine” or “the she-devil”, and also had made bitterness assertions about the doomed state that Henry and also Anne’s relationship also at the height of their joy in so late summer 1533. But Chapuys self recognised that Henry and also Anne had constantly been vulnerable to “lovers’ quarrels”, and that the king’s character was very “changeable”.

True, Henry and also Anne were straight with every other: they got angry, shouted and also became jealous. Yet they were additionally frequently explained as gift “merry” together; it was an epithet quiet being used to them during the autumn of 1535 – and one that was appended to your marriage much more often than to any type of of Henry’s various other unions. Young name has described theirs as a “tumultuous connection of sunshine and storms”.

Some have proposed the the legacy of a masculine foetus experienced by ann in January 1536 led inexorably to she downfall. Go it cause Henry to believe that Anne would never be able to bear that an heir, and also thus to think about the marital relationship doomed? Certainly, the king to be reported to have shown “great disappointment and also sorrow”. Chapuys composed that Henry, during his visit to Anne’s chamber after the tragedy, said very small except: “I check out that God will certainly not give me masculine children.”

Henry climate left ann at Greenwich to convalesce if he went to Whitehall to mark the feast day of St Matthew. Chapuys, quite maliciously, taken this as reflecting that Henry had abandoned Anne, “whereas in previous times he might hardly be one hour without her”. Clearly, the miscarriage was a good blow come both Henry and also Anne – yet another four months were to pass before Anne’s death, so demonstrating a straight link between the events would it is in problematic.

Another story, report third-hand through Chapuys, estimates Henry as informing an unidentified courtier the he had actually married ann “seduced and also constrained by sortilèges”. The last word translates as ‘sorcery, spells, charms’, and also has provided rise come the tip that anne Boleyn dabbled in witchcraft. Despite this is routinely cited as among the fees of which she was found guilty, it is not discussed in the indictment.

Ives, though, discussed that the major English meaning of sortilèges currently was ‘divination’, a translate into that transforms the meaning of Henry’s comment. It could imply that he to be induced come marry anne by premarital prophecies the she would bear sons, or could refer simply to Henry’s earlier infatuation or ‘bewitchment’ by Anne.

The idea that Henry had been “seduced by witchcraft” has end up being attached to one more theory, which holds the the actual reason because that Anne’s damage was that the foetus miscarried in January 1536 to be deformed. According to Tudor specialist Retha Warnicke, the delivery of a “shapeless massive of flesh” proved in Henry’s mental that ann was both a witch and also adulterously promiscuous. However this description originates from a Catholic propagandist, Nicholas Sander, writing 50 year later; over there is no contemporary evidence come sustain this salacious theory.

Diplomatic coup

An event in April 1536 says that, just weeks prior to Anne to be executed, Henry was still committed to his marriage. In the at an early stage months the 1536, Henry was increasing the press on Charles V come recognise anne as his wife. ~ above 18 April he invite Chapuys to the court. Events that day were an extremely deliberately staged: the ambassador attended fixed and, as Henry and Anne lower from the royal pew to the chapel, she stopped and also bowed to Chapuys.

Etiquette dictated that he return the gesture – a significant diplomatic coup, because it implied acknowledgment by the ambassador and, by extension, his emperor. The would, as Bernard has argued, have been extraordinarily capricious the Henry to seek to have actually Anne recognised together his mam if he already harboured intentions of ridding self of her quickly after.

So was it no guilt, nor a court coup, nor Henry’s hate of anne that led to her downfall but, rather, a terrible mix of malicious gossip and her very own indiscretions?

A poetic account created in June 1536 through Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador, relates that one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Browne, was accused of loosened living. She made irradiate of her own guilt through stating the “it was little in her instance in comparison through that of the queen”. This words reached Cromwell who, follow to de Carles, reported them come Henry; the king blanched and, an extremely reluctantly, notified him come investigate.

This definitely aligns through Cromwell’s very own retelling that the events. De Carles to add a crucial, despite unsubstantiated, clause, Henry telling Cromwell that “if it transforms out that your report, which I execute not wish to believe, is untrue, friend will obtain pain of death in ar of ”. For this reason Cromwell may have had actually reason to discover evidence of Anne’s guilt.

Given that ann was accused that conspiring the king’s fatality (the just charge the actually made up treason – consensual adultery to be not spanned by the treason regulation of 1352), it seems likely that the evidence used to demonstrate her guilt to be a conversation she recalled – and also William Kingston reported – with Norris.

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Anne had actually asked Norris why he did not go through with his marriage. He had actually replied the “he wold tary a time,” leading she to taunt him with the fateful words “you loke for ded men’s showys; for yf owth electronic came to the King but good, you would loke to have actually me.” Norris’s flustered response – that “yf he should have any kind of such thought, he wold hys hed battle of” – provoked her to retort that “she could undo the if she would,” and also “ther with thay felle yowt” (“there with they dropped out”.)

It could seem the this overstepped the normal limits of ‘courtly love’ talk just a little. Yet the Treasons plot of 1534 organized that also imagining the fatality of the king to be treasonous, therefore Anne’s conversation v Norris was charged, reckless and, arguably, deadly – advantageous ammunition if Cromwell were in search of dirt. Was it, as Greg walker (author of composing Under Tyranny) has actually suggested, no what anne did yet what she stated that made her show up guilty?

When it comes to Anne Boleyn’s fall, historians provide their ‘best guess’ answers on the communication of the easily accessible evidence – i beg your pardon is too sparse to be conclusive. For my part, the is the final ‘cock-up theory’ the convinces me. I believe that ann was innocent, yet caught the end by her careless words. Henry was encouraged by the charges versus her; it to be a destructive blow native which he never recovered. Because that Anne, the course, the aftermath were far more terrible.

Timeline: The rise and also fall of ann Boleyn

1501 (or maybe 1507): The birth

Anne is born in ~ Blickling, Norfolk, to thomas Boleyn and his wife, Elizabeth (daughter of thomas Howard, later 2nd Duke of Norfolk). Historians conflict whether ann was born in 1501 or 1507; the previous is an ext plausible

1513: The an initial post

Anne is appointed a maid-of-honour at the court the Margaret, archduchess of Austria; she later on leaves to serve Mary, queen that France, mam of luigi XII (and Henry VIII’s sister). After Louis’ death, Anne remains at the court that the brand-new French queen, Claude, for seven years

1521: The repatriation

Anne is recalled to England by her father

1 march 1522: The court appearance

Anne makes her an initial recorded appearance in ~ Henry VIII’s court, playing the component of Perseverance in a Shrove Tuesday pageant. At the time, Henry was having an affair through Anne’s sister, Mary

c1526: The object of love

Henry VIII falls in love with Anne. A letter indigenous him, dated to 1527, claims that for more than one year Henry had been “struck through the dart of love” and asks ann to “give herself body and heart to him”

1532/33: The imperial wedding

Anne marries Henry. The main wedding is hosted in January 1533, yet they are more than likely married privately at Dover in October 1532. Henry’s marriage to Catherine the Aragon is not annulled until might 1533

7 September 1533: The birth

Anne offers birth come a daughter, Elizabeth

29 January 1536: The miscarriage

Anne miscarries a masculine foetus

2 might 1536: The accusations

Anne is arrested and taken to the Tower, along with her brothers George Boleyn, lord Rochford