476 years ago, May 2, 1536, Anne Boleyn, Queen of England, was arrested and imprisoned on charges of adultery, incest, and treason.
Whether these allegations against Henry VIII’s second wife had any validity or were merely fabricated charges has been an ongoing source of speculation among Tudor scholars and British historians for quite some time.
Several scholars claim Henry had simply grown tired of Anne and they grew increasingly more distant when she couldn’t deliver the king a male heir.
Historical records, moreover, show Henry had set his sights on Jayne Seymour as early as April 1, 1536, well before an investigation was launched into the queen’s supposed infidelity.
Several historians believe Queen Anne got trapped in a web of court politics and lost her head in the political coup. Specifically, Thomas Cromwell, 1st Lord of Essex, felt his prospects of survival were grim as long as Anne and her conservative court had the ear of the king. Robert Bucholz, Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago, points out that `` there is some evidence that Thomas Cromwell felt threatened because Anne urged that the spoils from the Dissolution of the Monasteries be spent on charity, rather than pour into the royal coffers as Cromwell wanted.’’
Anne’s flirtatious manner among the men at court played right into Cromwell’s hands. Anne was said to have joked with her brother, George, Viscount Rochford, about the king’s lack of sexual prowess in their royal bed. As Professor Bucholz tells it: `` Contrary to the TV Tudors [the now defunct mini-series on Showtime], the middle-aged, gouty and overweight king was no longer the sexual tiger that he had once, presumably, been.’’
AB also joked with Henry Norris, the Groom of the Stool, about his obsession for her; and charges ran rampant that the queen had a sexual relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Tudor poet.
More damaging to Queen Anne, was that Cromwell manufactured some trumped up charges that she was engaging in conspiratorial gossip about the king, a treasonous charge under the ``Law of Words.’’
Cromwell now he had his smoking gun.
Mark Smeaton, one of the queen’s musicians was arrested and taken to Cromwell’s house for interrogation. The king then pressed Henry Norris, the chief gentleman of his privy chamber and one of his closest companions to answer truthfully if the queen had indeed engaged in adulterous affairs and whether he was her lover. Norris emphatically denied any such charges and was sent to the Tower to join Smeaton, both of whom were joined by the queen and her brother on May 2nd.
A group of courtiers were then arrested, (members of the privy chamber), including: William Brereton, Sir Francis Weston, and Sir Richard Page and Sir Thomas Wyatt, the poet, while another of Henry's companions, Sir Francis Bryan was also interrogated by Cromwell but later released.
On May 10th, a grand jury indicted all of the accused except Wyatt and Page on charges of having committed adultery with the queen.
On May 15th, Anne and Rochford were tried by a special court of peers convened within in the tower and were found guilty and condemned.
Before going to the Tower, Anne (on May 16th) asserted her ``innocency'' and swore on the damnation of her soul, that she had never been unfaithful to the king.
Anne’s final speech included the following words: ``Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord’’
Blindfolded and kneeling at the block on Tower Green on May 19th, the queen repeated the following prayer several times moments before her beheading: ``To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesu receive my soul.'’
May 2, 2012