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1536: Anne Boleyn’s supposed lovers

May 17th, 2015 Headsman

Beware, trust not in the vanity of the world, and especially in the flattering of the court … if I had followed God’s word in deed as I did read it and set it forth to my power, I had not come to this.

-From the last statement of George Boleyn

This was the execution date in 1536 of Anne Boleyn‘s co-accused, the undercard to the deposed queen’s beheading.

It was the accusation of adultery that furnished Anne’s downfall; some adulterers were perforce required. These were William Brereton, Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Mark Smeaton … and the ex-queen’s own brother, George Boleyn.

They had just days prior been subjected to a trial whose outcome was a foregone conclusion. All pleaded their innocence save Smeaton, a commoner court musician who could not withstand torture and “admitted” fooling around with Queen Anne.*

Along with Smeaton, three gentlemen-doomed plucked from the Tudor court’s shadowy recesses — joined to the legendary queen at the chopping-block, if not very probably in her bed.

  • Norris, the Groom of the Stool
  • Weston, a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber
  • Brereton, a Groom of the Privy Chamber

“Everyone was moved at their misfortune, especially at the case of Weston, who was young and of old lineage and high accomplishments,” one contemporary recorded of the fearful pall cast upon King Henry’s court by the purge. “But no one dared plead for him, except his mother, who, oppressed with grief, petitioned the King, and his wife, who offered rents and goods for his deliverance.”

The most egregious charge, naturally, did not concern these men. To put the fallen queen beyond the reach of sympathy it was alleged that she

following daily her frail and carnal lust … procured and incited her own natural brother, Geo. 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, 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.

This outrageous smear on the extremely specious grounds that big brother “had been once found a long time with her, and with certain other little follies,” invited as much skepticism among the Boleyns’ contemporaries as it does for posterity. Even after Anne had been condemned for adultery and incest in her stage-managed trial, George — the last of the bunch to face the tribunal — fought his corner so vigorously “that several of those present wagered 10 to 1 that he would be acquitted, especially as no witnesses were produced against either him or her, as it is usual to do, particularly when the accused denies the charge.”

A foolish bet, but perhaps one placed from a position of willful hope. If a peer of the realm could be condemned a traitor for hanging out with his sister, then no Henrician nobleman could hope to sleep securely.

Little could their dread fathom the bloody years to come. Many who saw the Boleyns’ heads drop would in time have cause to make of their gambling winnings a purse to tip their own executioners.

Thomas Cromwell, who engineered the Boleyn faction’s fall, outlived it by barely four years. The Earl of Surrey, who sat in judgment on this occasion, lost his head in 1547; his father the Duke of Norfolk,** who was the presiding judge, only avoided execution because Henry VIII died hours before Norfolk was to go to the block. George Boleyn’s wife, Lady Rochford, is supposed to have provided evidence against him; she was later swept up in the fall of Catherine Howard and beheaded for her trouble on that occasion.

But those were tragedies for later days.

In the spring of 1536, from his window in the Tower, the poet Thomas Wyatt witnessed this date’s executions: the young Anne’s last lover before the king descended on her, Wyatt too had been initially implicated in debauching the queen and he was fortunate not to be among their number. (Wyatt’s son would not be as lucky.) The shaken Wyatt wrote his fellow courtiers’ heartbreaking eulogy, and perhaps that of his era too, in his verse reflection on that terrible fall from fortune. (Via)

V. Innocentia
Veritas Viat Fides
Circumdederunt
me inimici mei

by Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Elder

Who list his wealth and ease retain,
Himself let him unknown contain.
Press not too fast in at that gate
Where the return stands by disdain,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.†

The high mountains are blasted oft
When the low valley is mild and soft.
Fortune with Health stands at debate.
The fall is grievous from aloft.
And sure, circa Regna tonat.

These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

The bell tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,
That yet circa Regna tonat.

By proof, I say, there did I learn:
Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,
Of innocency to plead or prate.
Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.

* In the Tower awaiting execution, Anne would voice worry for Smeaton’s soul when she learned that he had failed to retract this confession at the block. But Smeaton and all the men were beheaded in preference to a sentence of drawing and quartering, and had reason to be cautious about their comportment on the scaffold lest crueler torments be reinstated for them.

** Norfolk was Anne Boleyn’s uncle.

Circa Regna tonat: “Around the throne it thunders”, from Seneca’s Phaedra.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Entertainers,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Nobility,Notable for their Victims,Politicians,Power,Scandal,Sex,Torture,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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4 thoughts on “1536: Anne Boleyn’s supposed lovers”

  1. Banditqueen says:

    Head over to the AnneBoleynfiles.com, where you will find articles dedicated to this 19 days leading up to the outrageous execution of Anne Boleyn. Hostess Claire Ridgeway is excellent and the debate lively and informative.

    Anne and her five co accused were totally innocent, the evidence very dodgy and easily challenged, the juries and judges had something against Anne or the Boleyns or were connected to each other in some way. Anne had also fallen out with Cromwell over the sale of monastic lands and stood in the way of his foreign policy. Henry Viii wanted a new wife and did not care about how Cromwell got him one.

  2. Meaghan says:

    Did you miss the “not” there Kacey? The Headsman says they were NOT very probably in her bed — in other words, he agrees with you. And me.

  3. Kacey says:

    “Along with Smeaton, three gentlemen-doomed plucked from the Tudor court’s shadowy recesses — joined to the legendary queen at the chopping-block, if not very probably in her bed.”

    If you read Eric Ives’ “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” – which is probably as authoritative as we can ever hope to get about Anne Boleyn, there is little evidence to suggest that Anne slept with any of these men. The charges against her listed specific dates and locations, but either Anne was provably at another location on that date, or pregnant/recovering from a pregnancy. It was the deliberately ambiguous phrase “and divers other” dates and locations that sunk Anne and these men… that and Henry’s desire to ditch Anne and move on to Jane Seymour.

    Simply put, to say that any of these five men were ever “very probably” sleeping with Anne is very probably false.

  4. Meaghan says:

    Some idiot named G.W. Bernard actually published a book in 2010 (“Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions” with Yale University Press) arguing that she was guilty of adultery with at least some of the men accused. I thought it was ridiculous.

    The much better known “The Other Boleyn Girl,” a novel by Philippa Gregory, has in the story that Anne did sleep with her brother George in a desperate effort to conceive a son she could pass off as a king’s. In the story, she did in fact conceive a son by George, but because of the genetics she miscarried and the baby was horribly deformed, convincing Henry she was a demon-spawn witch who needed to die. I really liked the novel, actually, and think it’s a fine read if you just remember it’s a NOVEL and not historically accurate. The movie sucked though.

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