TRIAL of Anne BoleynThis is a featured page

Scales of JusticeThe True Facts of
The Trial
Queen Anne Boleyn

See also :

An Unprecedented Conviction

Earlier English Queens had been unfaithful and done treasonable acts, notably: -

Isabella of Angouleme
(1186/8 -1246)
It is said that her husband King John had ordered her lovers to be strung up and hanged above her bed.
Isabella of France
(c. 1295 – 1358)
unquestionably committed adultery with Roger Mortimer while she was married to the homosexual Edward II & deposed him.
Isabella was not punished, however, and lived for many years in considerable style, although not at court, until her death.
Eleanor of Aquitaine
(1122 – 1204) abetted her sons in a treasonous rebellion against her husband and King, Henry II that nearly cost him his throne and led to her being held under house arrest for 16 years
Matilda of Flanders
(c. 1031 – 1083
wife of William the Conqueror had also supported a renegade son against her husband, earning little more than a ticking-off
Joan of Navarre
(c. 1370 – 1437) widow of Henry IV had been accused (falsely, as it turned out) of witchcraft to poison Henry V, for which she was imprisoned for just 3 years
Eleanor Cobham
(c.1400 – 1452)
Duchess of Gloucester & wife of the Heir apparent , had schemed the death of her nephew Henry VI by witchcraft, but escaped execution; instead she was condemned to perpetual imprisonment

NO English royal lady, therefore had ever been sentenced to death
for the kind of crimes of which Anne Boleyn was accused.

"Nor had this happened in France, where in 1314, three french princesses, among them the wife of the heir to the throne were found guilty of committing adultery; but while their lovers were savagely butchered on the scaffold, they themselves were condemned only to divorce and imprisonment."

[source: Alison Weir The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn 2010]
The Indictment
The Indictment of Anne & George Boleyn
Source : British History online - primary sources

Indictment found at Westminster on Wednesday next after three weeks of Easter, 28 Hen. VIII. before Sir John Baldwin, &c., by the oaths of Giles Heron, Roger More, Ric. Awnsham, Thos. Byllyngton, Gregory Lovell, Jo. Worsop, Will. Goddard, Will. Blakwall, Jo. Wylford, Will. Berd, Hen. Hubbylthorn, Will. Hunyng, Rob. Walys, John England, Hen. Lodysman, and John Averey; who present that whereas queen Anne has been the wife of Henry VIII. for three years and more, she, despising her marriage, and entertaining malice against the King, and following daily her frail and carnal lust, did falsely and traitorously procure by base conversations and kisses, touchings, gifts, and other infamous incitations, divers of the King's daily and familiar servants to be her adulterers and concubines, so that several of the King's servants yielded to her vile provocations; viz., on 6th Oct. 25 Hen. VIII., at Westminster, and divers days before and after, she procured, by sweet words, kisses, touches, and otherwise, Hen. Noreys [Henry Norris], of Westminster, gentle man of the privy chamber, to violate her, by reason whereof he did so at Westminster on the 12th Oct. 25 Hen. VIII.; and they had illicit intercourse at various other times, both before and after, sometimes by his procurement, and sometimes by that of the Queen. Also the Queen, 2 Nov. 27 Hen. VIII. and several times before and after, at Westminster, procured and incited her own natural brother, George Boleyn, lord Rocheford, gentleman of the privy chamber, to violate her, alluring him with her tongue in the said George's mouth, and the said George's tongue in hers, and also with kisses, presents, and jewels; whereby he, despising the commands of God, and all human laws, 5 Nov. 27 Hen. VIII., violated and carnally knew the said Queen, his own sister, at Westminster; which he also did on divers other days before and after at the same place, sometimes by his own procurement and sometimes by the Queen's. Also the Queen, 3 Dec. 25 Hen. VIII., and divers days before and after, at Westminster, procured one Will. Bryerton [William Brereton], late of Westminster, gentleman of the privy chamber, to violate her, whereby he did so on 8 Dec. 25 Hen. VIII., at Hampton Court, in the parish of Lytel Hampton, and on several other days before and after, sometimes by his own procurement and sometimes by the Queen's. Also the Queen, 8 May 26 Hen. VIII., and at other times before and since, procured Sir Fras. Weston [Francis Weston], of Westminster, gentleman of the privy chamber, &c., whereby he did so on the 20 May, &c. Also the Queen, 12 April 26 Hen. VIII., and divers days before and since, at Westminster, procured Mark Smeton [Mark Smeaton], groom of the privy chamber, to violate her, whereby he did so at Westminster, 26 April 27 Hen. VIII.

Moreover, the said lord Rocheford, Norreys, Bryerton, Weston, and Smeton, being thus inflamed with carnal love of the Queen, and having become very jealous of each other, gave her secret gifts and pledges while carrying on this illicit intercourse; and the Queen, on her part, could not endure any of them to converse with any other woman, without showing great displeasure; and on the 27 Nov. 27 Hen. VIII., and other days before and after, at Westminster, she gave them great gifts to encourage them in their crimes. And further the said Queen and these other traitors, 31 Oct. 27 Hen. VIII., at Westminster, conspired the death and destruction of the King, the Queen often saying she would marry one of them as soon as the King died, and affirming that she would never love the King in her heart. And the King having a short time since become aware of the said abominable crimes and treasons against himself, took such inward displeasure and heaviness, especially from his said Queen's malice and adultery, that certain harms and perils have befallen his royal body.

And thus the said Queen and the other traitors aforesaid have committed their treasons in contempt of the Crown, and of the issue and heirs of the said King and Queen.

"Sir Christopher Hales, Attorney General
, was the chief prosecutor for the King. Hales was educated at Gray's Inn and was a member of a family of lawyers. He rose to be Attorney General after having served as Solicitor General, and two months after the trial of Anne Boleyn he succeeded Thomas Cromwell as Master of the Rolls."' He had previously represented the Crown at the trials of Cardinal Wolsey, Sir Thomas More, and Bishop Fisher. Like Audley, he performed his duties conscientiously and with neither undue harshness nor undue charity. Cromwell, who also had legal training, assisted with the prosecution. The words spoken by
these men in prosecuting the case have not been preserved, but it is known that they presented no witnesses. In this sense the entire case for the prosecution was much like a prosecutor's opening statement: describing the evidence and the results of the investigation but offering no "live" evidence to support the conclusions.

In the usual trial of this nature, someone whom the powerful wanted destroyed was accused of having said or done something that according to law was treason, and witnesses were found to swear to it. In this case, however, treason was constructed from the words that the Queen admittedly had spoken; these words were
embellished until they constituted treason under three different statutes. Anne had discussed marriage with Norris, and this could not be denied; but alone it meant nothing. It was reasoned, however, that since she had spoken of marriage to Norris, she wanted to marry him. It followed that she must have wanted the
King dead, and therefore she must have contrived to kill him. This last step in the reasoning may have been unnecessary. To wish the King dead in itself could be treason. Under the most important of the treason statutes, the 1352 law of Edward III, . it was treason to "compass ... or imagine . . . the death of the King, his consort, or his eldest son. ' Some dispute has existed whether this statute required some overt act or whether it allowed the punishment of treason committed by words alone. Authority does support the view that even by the end of the fifteenth century, treason by words alone was sufficient. Thus even under the 1352 statute, the words of Anne Boleyn, if construed as argued by the prosecution, would support a charge of treason.....

After having been presented with the case for the King, the peers heard Anne Boleyn's defense. She was unassisted, and there is no indication that she made what would have been a futile request for counsel. The Queen might have been permitted to present the testimony of others on her behalf, but in light of her lack of knowledge before the trial of the specific charges against her and her imprisonment prior to trial, the granting of this request would have done her little good... the defense in the trial of Anne Boleyn consisted only of
her own speech, in which she eloquently protested her innocence of all the charges. Because Anne had not seen the indictment in advance, she could not reply to each specific charge by producing an alibi for each date. Despite her lack of evidence, Anne's defense persuaded many spectators, including magistrates of London, that there was no evidence against her, but that it had been decreed that she must be disposed of once and for all." [Source: William and Mary Law Review]
Anne's Letter ?
Anne's letter at the British Library

Arrested May 2nd, 1536,

4 days later it was said that Anne sent a letter to Henry. Allegedly found in Thomas Cromwell's papers
after his execution in 1540. Scrawled across
the top in what seems to be Cromwell’s handwriting: “To the King from the Lady in the Tower”.
The letter is disputed by most historians saying
that the handwriting isn't her usual neat style
and she refers to herself as Anne Bullen,
however, some historians believe it mirrors
her psychology and is a copy of an original.
Notably, Jasper Ridley who rejected the letter
as “a forgery, written in the reign of her daughter, Elizabeth,” in his 1984 biography Henry VIII,
he later changed his mind in The Love Letters
of Henry VIII
(1987), in which he claimed
every element of the letter fits with what
we know of Anne’s psychology at this
stage in her imprisonment.


Your Grace's displeasure and my imprisonment are things so strange unto me, that what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you send unto me (willing me to confess a truth and so obtain your favour), by such a one, whom you know to be mine ancient professed enemy, I no sooner received this message by him, than I rightly conceived your meaning; and if, as you say, confessing a truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all willingness and duty, perform your duty. But let not Your Grace ever imagine that your poor wife will be brought to acknowledge a fault, where not so much as a thought ever proceeded. And to speak a truth, never a prince had wife more loyal in all duty, and in all true affection, than you have ever found in Anne Bullen - with which name and place I could willingly have contented myself, if God and your grace's pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forget myself in my exaltation or received queenship, but that I always looked for such alteration as I now find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer foundation than your Grace's fancy, the least alteration was fit and sufficient (I knew) to draw that fancy to some other subject.

You have chosen me from low estate to be your queen and companion, far beyond my desert or desire; if, then, you found me worthy of such honour, good your Grace, let not any light fancy or bad counsel of my enemies withdraw your princely favour from me; neither let that stain - that unworthy stain - of a disloyal heart towards your good grace ever cast so foul a blot on me, and on the infant princess your daughter.
Try me, good King, but let me have a lawful trial, and let not my sworn enemies sit as my accusers and as my judges; yea, let me receive an open trial, for my truth shall fear no open shame. Then you shall see either my innocency cleared, your suspicions and conscience satisfied, the ignominy and slander of the world stopped, or my guilt openly declared. So that, whatever God and you may determine of, your Grace may be freed from an open censure; and my offense being so lawfully proved, your Grace may be at liberty, both before God and man, not only to execute worthy punishment on me as an unfaithful wife but to follow your affection already settled on that party for whose sake I am now as I am, whose name I could some while since have pointed unto - your Grace being not ignorant of my suspicions therein.

But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death, but an infamous slander must bring your the joying of your desired happiness, then I desire of God that He will pardon your great sin herein, and likewise my enemies, the instruments thereof; and that He will not call you to a strait account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me at His general judgment seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear; and in whose just judgment, I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me), mine innocency shall be openly known and sufficiently cleared.

My last and only request shall be, that myself only bear the burden of your Grace's displeasure, and that it may not touch the innocent souls of those poor gentlemen, whom, as I understand, are likewise in strait imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found favour in your sight - if ever the name of Anne Bulen have been pleasing in your ears - then let me obtain this request; and so I will leave to trouble your grace any further, with mine earnest prayer to the Trinity to have your grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your actions.

From my doleful prison in the Tower, the 6th May.

Your most loyal and ever-faithful wife,
Anne Bullen

The Trials of Anne and the five men

"On Tuesday, 9 May [1536] the sheriffs of London were ordered to assemble the next day a grand jury of 'discreet and sufficient persons' to decide prima facie on the offences alleged at Whitehall and Hampton Court. Despite the short notice the sheriffs produced a list of 48 men, three quarters of whom, as instructed, turned up at Westminster before John Baldwin, chief justice of the common pleas, and six of his judicial colleagues".

John Baldwin was Henry Norris' brother in law and puzzlingly not the obvious choice.

Giles Heron - Sir Thomas More's son-in-law.
Edward Willoughby - owed William Brereton money.
William Askew - a welcome guest in Princess Mary Tudor's household
William Hungerford - a dependant of Cromwell's and a homosexual
Giles Alington - married to Sir Thomas More's stepdaughter
Sir John Hampdens daughter - sister-in-law to William Paulet, controller of the Royal household
William Musgrave - government witness for another case who was known to be in Cromwell's favour
Thomas Palmer - one of Henry's gambling cronies
Robert Dormer - known opponent of the breach with Rome
Richard Tempest - related to and an ally of Lord Darcy who was on good terms with Cromwell
William Drury - esquire of the body and associate of John Russell
Thomas Wharton - a leech clinging to the earl of Northumberland, who was desperately afraid that his earlier courtship of Anne would drag him down too.

Mark Smeaton confessed to adultery, but pleaded not guilty to the rest of the charges; Henry Norris, Francis Weston and William Brereton pleaded not guilty to all.

"The only way in which Anne Boleyn's trial seems questionable,by the standards of the times, was in the probable but unconfirmed torture (or threat thereof) of Mark Smeaton. Torture for the purpose of extracting evidence was quite common in the fifteenth century and again in the latter part of the sixteenth century but was not so prevalent when Anne Boleyn was tried. Torture was an available procedure under the law, but only by the King's written authority, or by the Council in the Marches of Wales. Smeaton's torture clearly would have violated the law in
force at the time. If Smeaton was tortured, this is the only aspect of the trial that one could call "illegal," and a look at the entire proceedings hardly suggests that Smeaton's torture or confession were dispositive of the result, helpful as they may have been." [Source: William and Mary Law Review]

Even where a jury was not loaded in advance, defendants in a Tudor criminal trial - even more, a state trial - were at an enormous disadvantage. They had no advance warning of the evidence to be put, and since defence counsel was not allowed, they were reduced to attempting to rebut a public interrogation by hostile and well-prepared Crown prosecutors determined not so much to present the government case as to secure a conviction by fair questions - or foul.

The expected verdict came - guilty. And the judgement - drawing hanging and quartering in all its horror.

Anne and her brother George were tried on Monday, 15 May [1536].

the French Bishop of Riez, ensconced in the viewing gallery above, was impressed by the Queen’s behaviour: "She walked forth in fearful beauty," he wrote later, "and seemed unmoved. She came not as one who had to defend her cause, but with the bearing of one coming to great honour."

Their uncle Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk sitting as Lord Steward with his son [Henry Howard]
at his feet plus a jury of 26 peers assisted by the chancellor and the royal justices.
Anne sat in chair provided, raised her right hand when called and pleaded 'not guilty'
to the indictment. The jury deliberated under the watchful eye of Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk.

The peers gave their verdict,...guilty as charged.
Norfolk pronounced sentence, weeping as he did - perhaps with relief more than sympathy?

"Because thou has offended our sovereign the king's grace in committing treason
against his person and here attainted of the same, the law of this realm is this,
that thou has deserved death and they judgement is this: 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".

Anne spoke up saying , as God was her witness she had done the King no wrong except for her jealousy.

"I do not say I have always shown him
[King Henry] that humility which his goodness
to me merited. I confess I have had jealous fancies and suspicions of him, which I had not discretion enough, and wisdom, to conceal.
But God knows, and is my witness, that I have not sinned against him in any other way.
Think not I say this in the hope to prolong my life. God hath taught me how to die, and He will strengthen my faith. As for my brother, and those others who are unjustly condemned [to die], I would willingly suffer many deaths to deliver them, but since I see it pleases the King, I shall willingly accompany them in death, with this assurance, that I shall lead an endless life with them in peace."

[source : The Six Wives of Henry VIII, by Alison Weir]

The earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy who had given his verdict along with the rest against the woman he had once courted, collapsed and had to be helped out. Next was George Boleyn's turn.

Tudor criminal trials were more about securing condemnation by due process than evaluating evidence, but two grand juries, a petty jury and a jury of peers sitting twice rejected the defence presented by Anne Boleyn and her alleged lovers. ..... When the duke of Suffolk's 'guilty' completed the Rochford verdict, 95 successive voices had spoken against them.

Ten years later, even Henry himself would admit that a victim in the Tower had no defence against false evidence."

[source: Eric Ives' Life and Death of Anne Boleyn]

Anne Boleyn at the Tower

A short film regarding Anne Boleyn's second (and last) stay at the Tower of London in 1536. It includes a little seen view of the fake 'Anne Boleyn' room within the Queen's House. In reality, Anne's apartments have now decayed.
The song playing at the end is a musical version of 'O Death Rock me Asleep' which Anne is supposed to have written during her imprisonment. It is highly unlikely that this is the case, despite the fact that it can be traced back to 1536.

[source: TheBullen1]

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