A- It was Henry â€“ he toldÂ Cromwell to make it happen.Â
This goes that in 1534, there is a furious argument between Henry and Anne as Anne objects to Henryâ€™s playing away, and Henry slaps her down by telling her that he can break her if he wants to, back to where she once belonged, and I am not talking the USSR. The story goes that Henry and Anneâ€™s relationship is a volatile one from the start; eventually, it comes to the point where Anneâ€™s combative, intelligent and persistent nature had been exciting in a mistress, but as far as Henry was concerned was a pain in neck in a wife. Then add to this that Anne started to have miscarriages, and in January 1536 she miscarried again. Now to add to his growing irritation with his wife, Henry was once again assailed by the same thought heâ€™d had with Catherine â€“ his marriage was cursed. That he was still trapped in the same nightmare â€“ no male heir, looking down the barrel of the gun at the civil war of the wars of the Roses all over again. And then along came this winsome Jane Seymour â€“ everything Anne was not, docile, traditional. Just the ticket.
So, Henry had slipped Cromwell a shopping list; something like 2 chickens, bunch of carrots, kitchen roll â€“ oh and get rid of my wife. Cromwell had cooked up a bunch of charges; critically, heâ€™d also taken the opportunity to get rid of a few political enemies at the same time both to help him personally as with William Brereton, and to stop himself getting stiffed after the event, including George Boleyn who might be understandably miffed that his sister had been killed, and away you go. This argument, it has to be said, has the advantage that it concurs with some of Henryâ€™s history; after all, he has form, he has already discarded a wife, he has fallen in love. We know that Henry has a delightfully flexible conscience. In this story then, Henry was celebrating on a barge with Jane Seymour within three days of Anneâ€™s execution because at least in part, he was genuinely celebrating his new love.
There are problems with the theory. We know that even Chapuys despaired of finding definitive evidence that the king and Anne had fallen out properly â€“ it was all lovers tiff territory, he himself admitted as much although he ached, he ached to say differently. Heâ€™d reported a falling out in 1534 apparently, but the progress of summer 1535 seems to have been a great success, and anyway Anne was pregnant in January 1536. In December 1535 Chapuys writes in frustration that Anne â€˜had bewitched and cast spells over himâ€™ since Henry was so smitten. And then, even after her miscarriage in January 1536, Henry seemed to be fighting her corner. Right up to 18th April 1536, a couple of weeks before the fateful May Day joust, Henry was arguing with foreign powers that they should recognise Anne as his wife â€“ in a letter written to Charles V. Why on earth would be bother if heâ€™s instructed Cromwell to have Anne mullahed. And even later, on 25th April, he sent instructions to his ambassador arguing the case for the legitimacy of his marriage.
In this story, it might well be that Henry was celebrating with Jane on his barge not because heâ€™d joyfully moved on to a new lover, but because he was resentfully demonstrating to the world that he still had his cojones.
So look, thereâ€™s no credible evidence before then that Henry had fallen out with Anne before the very morning he gives her the chop, and thereâ€™s clear evidence he was fighting her corner just one week before he does so. Come on, surely there has to be some kind of trigger before Henry takes the absolutely extraordinary step of having a Queen arrested? The idea that he wakes up one morning and decides thatâ€™s I seems unbelievable.
B: It was Cromwell and factional politics
So much for option A then. Your option B, the 2nd theory, seems to be one of the most popular at the moment; the idea that Cromwell brought Anne down as part of the factional infighting for power. That Cromwell brought leadership and insight to existing factions struggling to find a way to bring her down; he did it by being 10 times more brutal and clear sighted than the rest.
So this is the story. It starts with the supposition that Anne and Commers had fallen out. Late in 1535, Anne began to realise that Crommers had outgrown her, and was no longer her man, and worse, they were beginning to actively disagree about policy. Anne appears to have favoured using the proceeds of the dissolution of the monasteries to endow educational foundations, and to support the poor; she began to realise that Cromwellâ€™s plan was not that, but to endow the monarchy and make them rich and independent for ever. Then also, Anne was pro French â€“ while Cromwell was working consistently to advance an Imperial alliance. On one occasion, Cromwell had essentially been publicly busted and dressed down by Henry for a proposed Imperial alliance, humiliating him in front of Chapuys. Cromwell decided Anne had to go. But the question was how.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, the Aragonese and religious conservatives like Carew, Exeter and even Suffolk were desperate to take Anne down; they wanted Elizabeth bastardised, Mary restored, and this dangerous religious evangelical Anne busted. But they couldnâ€™t work out how to do it; it was all terribly difficult to construct a convincing argument over canon law, and anyway it would leave Anneâ€™s faction in power to exact revenge, and Anne as another Catherine in the wings making life painful and awkward for every right-minded person would be even worse than Catherine had been, and that had not been pleasant.
The Duke of Norfolk was also no supporter of his niece Anne any more; he was being left behind, heâ€™d not reaped the benefits he expected at all from her rise, and heâ€™d seen his influence being undermined by another parvenu Cromwell as well. Not a happy bunny. And then there the Seymours they wanted rid of Anne too â€“ theyâ€™d been setting their girlâ€™s cap at the king because they fancied a bit of power and reckoned Henry was up for it.
Cromwell the master politician brought all these folks together and came up with a master solution. Forget the canon law thing, how rubbish an idea was that go and stand in the corner. Nope, weâ€™ll construct a plan that Anne has been going at it like a rabbit, and weâ€™ll present this as high treason â€“ for which the sentence is death; so thatâ€™s her out of the way. Predictably her co-rabbits will all be her supporters and that means weâ€™ll be able to get them killed and her faction out of the way to boot. Oh and by the way Iâ€™m going to throw Brereton in as an extra â€˜cos heâ€™s getting in my way in North Wales.Â Itâ€™s genius.
But Anne was no pushover, the argument goes. She realised that she and Cromwell had fallen out; and she fought back, political in-fighter that she was, got in close and delivered a few well aimed punches to the body. She mobilised the Boleyn protÃ©gÃ© ABC Thomas Cranmer and told him that religious reform and the use of the proceeds of the dissolution was being subverted by the evil Cromwell, and Cranmer was quickly on Cromwellâ€™s back demanding an explanation. And think back to John Skip and that sermon to the king, denouncing lustful kings and evil councillors; hereâ€™s the explanation; a lecture for Henry to keep his slimey, stubby little hands off Jane Seymour, and a public condemnation of Cromwell.Â Meanwhile she wheeled little Elizabeth into the action; a Scottish observer at court, Alexander Ales, would later recount to Elizabeth how heâ€™d seen Anne in a desperate conversation holding Elizabeth in her arms. Anne appeared to be pleading, Henry appeared to be unimpressed.
Itâ€™s a lovely, lovely theory. It has a brutal, devious minister, it has political in-fighting, it explains why Henry was supporting his wife so late – because he had no idea she was so naughty; it allows us to believe that Henry really believed that Anne was guilty when Cromwell came forward and told him Anne had been playing away, no doubt with tears in his eyes; it explains therefore Henryâ€™s tearful outburst to his bastard son Richmond that theyâ€™d been saved from a hideous poisoner.
But there are objections. The whole factional thing, as we will discuss a bit more next week, is really difficult to actually tie down; itâ€™s almost impossible to find any hard evidence of organised collusion, either within each faction, or certainly between factions. It is all conspiracy theory essentially, however attractive it might appear, the hard evidence is missing. There is the odd statement from Chapuys referring to conspirators â€“ thatâ€™s basically your lot. It also seems a bit odd â€“ after all, this supposed coup is hardly a triumph for the Aragonese lot â€“ they see Anne brought down, but in the meantime sheâ€™s replaced by the scion of a family known for their evangelical leanings.
And then, thereâ€™s the absolutely stupendously enormous stonking and generally large risk Cromwell is taking. This is not a man who has got to the pinnacle of power he later will achieve â€“ he has nothing like the authority Wolsey had. And we are saying that he will cook up the most outrageous bundle of lies and take it to the king and say here you go, boss, you know that wife youâ€™ve been fighting for over the last 9 years or so? Well, sheâ€™s been having sex with all and sundry, making you look like a Charlie, and ooh, by the way, sheâ€™s been playing tonsil tennis with her brother to boot. Itâ€™s often presented as unbelievable that Anne could possibly be guilty â€“ is it any more believable that Cromwell would take a risk like this? Itâ€™s lunacy!!! There is an occasion later where it appears that Cromwell implies to Chapuys that heâ€™d had a hand in it â€“ this sounds as much like a big â€˜ead bigging himself up after the event to make it clear just how big and powerful he is, as it is to have any basis in truth.
Itâ€™s also reasonable to question why Cromwell would want to bring Anne down at all. After all on the face of things itâ€™s not a great result for him; heâ€™s ridden to power with Anne, the conservatives will never be his friends, never, since heâ€™s a religious evangelical, and nor will the likes of Norfolk and Suffolk; they both think heâ€™s the most fearful oik who probably doesnâ€™t even read the DailyTelegrapgh. His disagreements with religious policy with Anne over the endowments of the monasteries were far smaller than their agreements, and the difference between them far smaller for example, than the fundamental rift between the evangelical Cromwell and the traditionalist Aragonese. The disagreements he is supposed to have as regards international policy was hardly enough to warrant bringing Anne down in a charge of incest for crying aloud. Itâ€™s deeply odd.
Option C: She was Guilty
OK, so given that there are serious objections to both these theories A & B, surely even Anne Boleyn lovers need to drag themselves kicking and screaming to the idea that maybe, just maybe we need to contemplate the concept that Anne was actually guilty. It would after all square away all of those objections, itâ€™s an occamâ€™s razor of an explanation â€“ ah, she was executed for adultery because she was, um, let me see now, of yes, guilty of adultery!
Even Chapuys though was unimpressed by the evidence presented, and clearly we are never going to be able to convict her against the standards of evidence that a court demands. But is it really as impossible as everyone seems to think? Thereâ€™s one book out there at least which rather interestingly presented the case for why it might be possible.
Professor Bernardâ€™s case rests a lot of one particular manuscript, by one Lancelot de Carles. Lancelot was the secretary to the French ambassador to England, and intended the poem only to be read by the French ambassador. There are some objections to the text used; Lancelot was a contemporary which is good, the manuscript is dated 1536; but he doesnâ€™t name his sources, and itâ€™s a version dictated, and therefore thereâ€™s potential for error. Reasons for caution certainly; but hardly insurmountable objections Iâ€™d have thought. The problem is often that itâ€™s difficult to corroborate. Equally, he doesnâ€™t have the same obvious anti Anne bias as does Chapuys, and he was writing for just one man originally, not for the general public, therefore no great need to showboat; and in his position he should absolutely have been well informed. So he seems a pretty good witness.
De Carles paints a very different picture of Anne; itâ€™s more in line with the image of the dancing and good times of which we get a brief glimpse from time to time. It suggests that if she fancied someone, then she might well indulge herself, and she fancied quite a few people on the way. She was not alone, some of her ladies in waiting emulated their Queenâ€™s style. It is worth noting, by the way, that the Queen, just like the king, was supposed to be responsible for the moral behaviour of her household. This is no mean feat for a household full of rich, bored, young and therefore presumably hormone ridden noblefolk. They might well fall in with the idea that that which is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; that if Anne was going to have affairs so would they, and theyâ€™d also approve heartily of hers. Anyway, things were rumbling along quite happily, when a chance conversation with one of Anneâ€™s ladies and her brother took the lid of the can with wiggly woo in it. Wiggly woo is a worm that lives at the bottom of the garden by the way. Can of worms. Anthony Browne was a privy councillor, and his sister was the countess of Worcester. Browne has found out that his sister is pregnant and suspects itâ€™s not the Earl of Worcesterâ€™s doing. He has a right old go at his sister, who stoutly defends herself, that he shouldnâ€™t have a go at her, the Queen is much worse; she talks about Henry Norris and Mark Smeaton. She then goes on further to say
â€˜I must not forget to tell you what seems to me to be the worst thing, which is that often her brother has carnal knowledge of her in bed.â€™
Far worse of course than having carnal knowledge out of bed. Anyway, Browne decides that he must tell the king; because if he doesnâ€™t heâ€™s potentially guilty of treason for concealing what he knows. And so off he goes and tells the king, who asks Commers to uncover the truth.
Now, there are snippets that corroborate the story. Cromwellâ€™s faithful servant the jailer William Kingston recorded that Anne
â€˜much lamented my lady of Worcester â€¦ because that her child did not stir in her bodyâ€¦for the sorrow she took for meâ€™.
Ha! Seems to suggest a remorseful Countess for having dunked her mistress firmly in the mire, â€˜for the sorrow she took for meâ€™. We know that the Countess and Anne were closely connected, there are gifts going backwards and forth. If Anne was playing away, the only way she could possibly have managed it is with the collusion of her ladies in waiting, and sheâ€™d be likely to enlist the help of those who were also of such a persuasion â€“ and therefore likely to get into trouble if they spilt the proverbial beans.
This leads to an interesting thought actually. One of the arguments has always been, well how on earth could a queen commit adultery? She was scarcely ever alone. Well, the opposite is also true; there was an enormous risk of accusing a queen of such a thing. Youâ€™d literally be eviscerated if you couldnâ€™t prove it, and itâ€™s not like Iâ€™m saying something like, Iâ€™m dying for a cup of tea, this is not speaking figuratively it really is speaking literally youâ€™d be degenitalised. There is also a story from the time from one serving woman Margaret who describes in detail how she would secretly arrange for lovers to make it to the Queenâ€™s bedroom; the account looks very dicey and was under torture, but it at least suggests that making such arrangements were possible.
There is also some corroboration that the Countess of Worcester was indeed an accuser of the Queen. She is named as such in a contemporary letter by one John Hussee. So the story does not stand on de Carlesâ€™ testimony alone. There are other straws in the wind if you like. So, you might remember that after Anne and Norrisâ€™s disastrous conversation. I mean itâ€™s really quite a bloomer isnâ€™t it? You are just waiting till my husband croaks so you can have me? And this from Anne whoâ€™s been coping with this atmosphere since she was a nipper, and hey, French trained to boot, and we all know how much more sophisticated the French are compared to the lumbering English. So, well, is it really a bloomer, or actually was this pretty normal behaviour, itâ€™s just that on this occasion itâ€™s overheard and so Anne canâ€™t deny it and has to try to put the best possible gloss on it? Just to back up the idea, Anne also had a run in with Francis Weston; the conversation came about because Anne started a conversation wherein she accused Weston of not loving his wife. Seriously is this the conversation youâ€™d expect the Queen to be having? When Weston cheekily then says that its Anne he loves, maybe thatâ€™s because itâ€™s a genuine possibility. Anne said in the Tower she feared Weston more than the others â€“ maybe thatâ€™s simply because she thought of him as the most likely to spill the beans. Itâ€™s worth noting that even if you donâ€™t buy the idea that Anne guilty, thereâ€™s grounds for thinking that Henry might well have believed it. I doubt very much indeed that Catherine of Aragon would have got mixed up in such conversations.
Of course going along with the idea that Anne was guilty asks you to believe an awful lot â€“ incest for one thing, just to mention that little number. One argument is to point at the enormous pressure Anne was under to conceive a child, and all this alongside the reputation of the kingâ€™s impotence that came out at the trial. But if you are not ready to go along with such a thing, There are a couple of points to be made. Firstly, to believe that Anne was guilty of adultery with Norris and Smeaton does not mean that you necessarily believe that she was guilty of all the accusations. Incest with George for example might well have been added by Crommers to add spice and bring down a potential revenger, as we have discussed earlier. Also, look at it from Cromwellâ€™s point of view; the Queenâ€™s been found to be having an affair, but Norris is stoutly denying it. He and the king cannot, they simply cannot have this hanging around on street corners beating up old grannies for a few years, this has to be dealt with now, fast in double quick time. And so they sex it up; in this same context should be seen all those dates of the Queenâ€™s supposed assignations. Historians have trawled through them to demonstrate that she couldnâ€™t have been at more than a fraction of them. So what?! Must be the reply. Cromwell had to put something it to add credibility to the wider case. OK, itâ€™s not pretty, but it worked. And in Cromwellâ€™s defence, itâ€™s worth noting that two other men were accused in Wyatt and Bryan. Both of them were released, despite the fact that they were Anne Boleyn fans. Oooh, now thatâ€™s interesting. So Henry and Cromwell were not in a total mad blood bath then- here they have looked at the case of a couple of folks, and decided they were innocent and let them go. It doesnâ€™t say much for the argument either that Anneâ€™s fall was a desperate attempt to destroy the entire Boleyn faction.
Which brings us to Mark Smeaton â€“ who confessed to being guilty. Itâ€™s generally assumed that he was simply tortured, heâ€™s a lying, fibbing little tick and loser. Actually thereâ€™s very little evidence that torture was routinely used at this time. There is none that is was used on Smeaton; certainly the accounts donâ€™t talk about a bruised and broken man being carried to the scaffold. Of course it might be that the threat of torture was enough, all Iâ€™m saying is that thereâ€™s no evidence it was used to extract a false confession from the man. Again, Occamâ€™s razor would suggest that if Anne was accused of having sex with Smeaton, maybe she was indeed guilty of having sex with Smeaton.
So there you go. Essentially the argument is that it is too easy to simply wave a hand and say that of course poor Anne was innocent; there are some arguments that maybe it was indeed possible. A feature of Anneâ€™s career is a rising tide of furious criticism of descriptions of her as a shameless adventuress who subverted and seduced the king. It is easy to dismiss these accusations as nothing more than the cries of those offended by her refusal to be beaten by the traditional restrictions of society which said that women could not take an active role in politics; or false accusations made by defenders of the old order and of the beloved Catherine and Mary.
But maybe we miss the point. Maybe the accusations are indeed true. Maybe it simply reflects reality â€“ maybe thatâ€™s the way Anne did carry on. Such a view in now way minimises or undermines the things we admire for â€“ her courage, intelligence, determination, wit, political skill, religious conviction and ability to see a bigger picture of how education and the poor could be better served. With such drive and energy, she was well capable to having sex with a couple of fancy men, for fun, love, lust or, critically, to improve her chances of producing the heir that would finally after years of stress and pain, finally put her position beyond doubt.
Therein the argument for the prosecution; of course such an argument has some massive obstacles to overcome. Let us have a few of them.
Iâ€™ve seen the argument in favour of Anneâ€™s guilt that surely 80 signatories would not all have simply submitted to a terrible falsehood and condemn an innocent person to death; though well actually, Iâ€™m not sure itâ€™s a terribly good argument; I imagine after the first man voted for the terrible falsehood, it would get easier and easier for the rest. But if you are going to advance such an argument, then I think you need to say the same in defense of Anne â€“ was she really the kind of person to behave in such an immoral way, to lie and cheat?
Itâ€™s quite a lot to accept that Anneâ€™s household ladies would have conspired with her; it is a terrible risk for all of them. Given the constant attendance on the Queen, it would have required at least some conspiracy.
Weâ€™ve talked about whether or not Mark Smeaton was speaking the truth; let me point out Mark Smeatonâ€™s last words
Masters, I pray you all pray for me, for I have deserved the death”
Itâ€™s pretty clear this could be interpreted many ways â€“ he might well have deserved death for wrongly accusing the Queen; given the danger for the family left behind of accusing the king, it is just the thing he would have said had he wanted to expiate his guilt for wrongly accusing Anne. Thomas Wyattâ€™s poem about Anneâ€™s execution has a verse for Mark.
Ah! Mark, what moan should I for thee make more,
Since that thy death thou hast deserved best,
Once again, this is a double edged comment at best â€“ Wyatt could be saying Smeaton deserved death because he did indeed have sex with Anne; or because he wrongly accused the woman Wyatt admired. By the way, you can see the whole text of Wyattâ€™s poem and what he says about each of the victims on the Anne Boleyn files website of course, just search for â€˜in mourning wiseâ€™, the first words of the poem, and you will find it.
Meanwhile, all the other accused stoutly refused to confess and pleaded innocent against all pressure; if we are going to use the Occamâ€™s razor argument in favour of a guilty verdict, then we should use it too in her defence -most of the men said she was innocent, so maybe she was. And then even Chapuys, surely the man with most temptation to accept the verdict â€“ even he wrote that the evidence was pants, simply hearsay and rumour.
The biggest single argument against a guilty verdict, though, has for me got to be the same as the biggest question mark I have about laying the blame at Cromwellâ€™s door; the risk. Would a person as intelligent as Anne have taken such enormous towering risks? Here was a woman who came out of the notorious French court with her reputation intact, unlike her sister, despite the fact that Nicholas Sanders mixed her up with Mary. Anne had the determination and strength of character to withhold for all those years with Henry, to play a long game. Would she have taken such a risk?
Or was in fact taken such risks exactly what Anne was all about? You tell me ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you tell me. A, B C or if you must, D.
Remember one more rule; this is not a court of law, this is simply about your opinion â€“ on the balance of probabilities, what do you think is most likely?