the links to part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4 of the series “A fatal love triangle: King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour
On the 15th of May 1536, a fatal love triangle was untangled – Anne Boleyn was sentenced to death. Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn were tried in the King’s Hall of the Tower of London with about 2,000 people in attendance.
The literary account to the events of the day was described by Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador, in ‘the Histoire de Anne Boleyn Jadis Royne d’Angleterre’ which was completed on the 2nd of June 1536, a bare fortnight after her death.
Anne was brought in by the constable of the Tower to be tried first, before her brother. The jury was made up of Anne’s enemies only, and her own uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, presided over the trial.
Anne understood the hopelessness of her situation and the impossibility, of proving her innocence. Defendants in a Tudor state trial had no advance of being warned about the evidence to be put and a defence counsel was not permitted, and, thus, all defendants were at a great disadvantage. Yet, Anne triumphed over her those who hated her by giving clear, clever, and wise answers, speaking with confidence and conviction which impressed her foes. She rebutted all the accusations against her.
Eric Ives writes about Anne’s impressive behaviour during the trial:
“The queen was once more in command of herself and clearly of the situation. Her sparing and effective answers quietly dominated the court. From the moment of her arrest, Anne had realized the difficulty of establishing her innocence. She had said to Kingston: ‘I can say no more but ‘‘nay’’, without I should open my body’; and, ‘If any man accuse me, I can say but ‘‘nay’’, and they can bring no witnesses.’ Yet when the time came, her manner did carry conviction. No, she had not been unfaithful; no, she had not promised to marry Norris; no, she had not hoped for the king’s death; no, she had not given secret tokens to Norris; no, she had neither poisoned Katherine nor planned to poison Mary; yes, she had given money to Francis Weston, but she had done the same to many of the always penurious young courtiers; and so it went on.”
Although the trial went through standard procedures, it was a mock trialbecause the verdict was known in advance. Mark Smeaton confessed to committing adultery with Anny, but pleaded not guilty to the rest of the charge. Henry Norris, Francis Weston, and William Brereton claimed their innocence. Anne was doomed: she was found guilty by every peer of the English realm. Later, George also pleaded not guilty and defended himself well in court; but he was doomed as well.
A weeping Norfolk pronounced Anne’s sentence:
“Because thou hast offended against our sovereign the King’s Grace in committing treason against his person, and here attainted of the same, the law of the realm is this, that thou hast deserved death, and thy judgment is tis: that thou shalt be burned here within the Tower of London on the Green, else to have thy head smitten off, as the King’s pleasure shall be further known of the same.”
I don’t think that Norfolk was broken-hearted over the tragic fate of his niece. To me, his actions resemble more a cynical show of a calculating seasoned courtier than a heartfelt display of an uncle’s sympathy to his niece.
Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, Anne’s first love, gave a guilty verdict along with other peers, but then he collapsed and was taken out of the chamber. Several days before the trial, Northumberland had been questioned and denied a pre-contract with Anne.
In Tudor thinking, if the accused is found guilty and condemned, then they should stop worrying about mortal life and begin to think of God and God’s judgment. It seems that the same happened to Anne who accepted her fate with calm and dignity befitting Queen of England. She thought of the meaning of death for her – departure to God and an eternal life in Heaven. Anne didn’t fear the fires of Hell because she was innocent of all the charges brought against her by her enemies.
In the end, the queen spoke a gracious and emotionally-gripping speech which moved her enemies. This speech might have been embellished and drama exaggerated, but there might be a lot of truth in these words.
According to Lancelot de Carles, the condemned queen spoke the following speech:
“Because in her face one saw no change
Nor in her means nor manner nothing:
But she rendered graces to God to join hands
In saying to him: “O father of humans,
“Who is the way and life and truth.
“You know if I have merited this death!”
Then turning toward the judges, said to them:
“I do not want to say your edict is unjust,
“To presume only so much is reasonable
“My only advice, that it must be valuable
“Against you all, and I believe that you know well
“The reason why you have condemned me,
“Other than isn’t this that you have deduced
“To the judgment, for/because I am quit of all of it.
“And requiring only that God pardons me of it
“Never for grace did anyone gave me any:
Because I have always been loyal to the King.
I do not say that I would always have been such,
I carried only to him the humility I could have
That I had to, saw his humanity
And the great gentleness with which he treated me,
And great honor that he always showed to me,
And that often I had some fantasy
Against him because of some jealousy:
But I know that in this virtue failed me
And it must be for this reason I am attacked.
But as for rest of it God knows the evidence
That I committed no wrongs against him:
And for certain I will not confess to any
On the day that I am to suffer death.
And you think I tell you this only
For some hope of preserving my life
But I am learning how to die well
With the one who can cure death,
Who by his grace returned to me my faith
And sustained my weakness in my time of need.
“But I am not still so ravished
“In spirit that honor does not invite me
“To sustain these reasonable rights,
“O f which, sirs, I will hold little weight
“Near my end, if in my life I did not have it
“Well preserved, some Queen I would have been.
“And for this I wish that this last time to speak
“Be only to preserve my honor
“And my brother’s, and of those that you judged
“To have put to death and removed their honor:
“So much I wish that I knew how to defend them
“And to deliver, for guilt sentences me
“To a thousand deaths. But since it pleases the King
“I will receive death in this time,
“And I will hold them company in death,
“For then afterwards in the infinite glory
“Where I will pray God for the King and for you.”
After Anne’s arrest, Jane Seymour and King Henry were temporarily separated for decency’s sake. The king was adamant about preserving Jane’s reputation of a virtuous maiden. Moreover, Henry couldn’t allow himself to be seen with another woman in public in order to paint himself in favourable colours: he couldn’t protest Anne’s misconduct if he himself courted another woman.
Therefore, Jane was removed from court at Henry’s behest. She was lodged at Beddington, Carew’s luxurious house and garden near Croydon. Even before Anne’s execution, Jane was Queen of England in all but name! Eustace Chapuys commented that Jane was “splendidly served by the King’s cook and other officers” and was “most splendidly dressed”.
On the 15h of May 1536, the day before Anne’s trial, Jane was escorted to Chelsea by Carew and was lodged at Sir Thomas More’s former house. On the same morning, she received a letter from the king where he would send her a further message at 3 o’clock regarding the condemnation of the adulterous Anne Boleyn. Anne still drew breath and the last hours of her life stood between Jane and Henry, but the enamoured king already waited for Anne’s death, impatiently and with bated breath.
Jane’s role Anne Boleyn’s downfall will always remain unclear, like Henry’s role in Anne’s destined tragedy. We don’t know whether she knew that the accusations against Anne were false or suspected that Anne’s was innocent.
Personally, I don’t think that a plot of the Seymours delivered Anne in the hands of her enemies, but I do strongly believe that they didn’t doubt her innocence. Jane had presented herself as the opposite of Anne Boleyn to attract the king and charm him, knowing that it would give her the upper hand in the heated battle for the king’s affections.
I feel that Jane wanted the Crown and consciously played a game with Henry, presenting herself as a woman for whom honour was the most precious things in her life. I also call in question Jane’s high moral code because she was able to step over rivers of innocent blood and marry the king just in about two weeks after Anne’s execution. After her wedding, Jane remained a submissive and docile wife, knowing that it was the only way to survive in the dangerous role of Henry’s wife.
In her biography of Jane Seymour, Elizabeth Norton writes about Jane’s attitude towards Anne’s alleged adulteries:
“Jane had her own ideas on Anne’s guilt and she was well aware that a queen did not have the privacy to commit adultery. Anne’s fate showed her the danger she could be in and her innocence would not stand in the way of her condemnation if Henry ever decided to be rid of her. As the Emperor’s sister, Mary of Hungary, commented drily even before Jane’s marriage, ‘it is to be hoped, if hope be a right thing to entertain about such acts, that when he is tired of this one he will find some occasion of getting rid of her. I think wives will hardly be well contented if such customs become general’. Even Mary of Hungary, a niece of Catherine of Aragon, did not believe in Anne’s guilt and Jane knew that Henry could just as easily get rid of her if he so chose.”
A fog of fatality that had enshrouded Anne on the day of her arrest thickened. After the trial, Anne was taken back to her lodgings in the Tower, already knowing that in several days, she, one of the tragic queens in the history of England, would walk to Tower Green for the last time in her life. Probably, she was guessing whether she would be burned at the stake or beheaded, hoping for Henry’s last act of mercy.