Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

On the 15th May 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn was tried in the King’s Hall of the Tower of London in front of an estimated 2,000 spectators. A great platform had been erected in the hall so that everybody could see.

As Queen, Anne Boleyn was given the privilege, if it can be called that, of being tried by a jury of her peers, presided over by her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, as Lord High Steward, rather than by the commission of oyer and terminer who sat in judgement on Norris, Weston, Smeaton and Brereton. In reality, this was no privilege. Her trial had already been prejudiced by the guilty verdicts of the four men, and her jury was made up of her enemies.

The chronicler Charles Wriothesley, recorded that after her indictment was read out, Anne “made so wise and discreet aunsweres to all thinges layde against her, excusing herselfe with her wordes so clearlie, as thoughe she had never bene faultie to the same”. The Queen defended herself admirably, denying all of these preposterous charges and admitting only to giving money to Sir Francis Weston, just as she gave money to many young gentlemen at court. Notwithstanding, the jury were unanimous in their verdict: “guilty”. The Queen was then stripped of her crown and her titles, all except that of “Queen”. With tears running down his cheeks, Anne’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, pronounced the 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.”

The Queen kept her composure. Although she did not argue against the sentence, she said that she “believed there was some other reason for which she was condemned than the cause alleged”. Anne Boleyn was then escorted out of the court by her gaoler, Sir William Kingston, with the axe turned against her to show that she had been sentenced to death.

George’s Turn

While Anne Boleyn was taken back to her lodgings in the Tower of London, her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, was taken to the King’s Hall to stand before the same jury. All witnesses agree that George put up a good fight in the court room that day. In his Chronicle, Charles Wriothesley recorded that after George pleaded not guilty, “he made answer so prudently and wisely to all articles laid against him, that marvel it was to hear, but never would confess anything, but made himself as clear as though he had never offended” and Lancelot de Carles commented on George’s good defence and his eloquence, which de Carles likened to that of Sir Thomas More.

George defended himself so well in court “that several of those present wagered 10 to 1 that he would be acquitted”, but he was also rather reckless. Perhaps he realised that there was no hope of justice and thought he had nothing to lose, for when he was handed a note regarding the King’s impotence, George recklessly read it aloud even though he had been commanded not to. George had allegedly joked or gossiped about the King’s sexual problems, his lack of sexual prowess, and he had also joked about Elizabeth not being the King’s daughter. This meant that he had unwittingly committed treason because this kind of talk impugned the King’s issue. What was worse was that George had disobeyed instructions and read out this note in court, embarrassing the King and not endearing himself to the jury. Unsurprisingly, George was found guilty and sentenced to a full traitor’s death. Like his sister before him, George Boleyn was then taken back to his prison in the Tower to prepare himself for death.

Also on this day…

Before news reached him of Anne’s trial, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, wrote to his ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, regarding what he had heard about Queen Anne Boleyn, the allegations against her and the King’s plans to remove her and remarry. He wrote of how he supposed “that the King will put her and her accomplices to death and take another wife, as he is of amorous complexion and always desires to have a male child” and offered “the Infanta of Portugal, daughter of our sister the queen of France” in marriage to Henry VIII to stop the King aligning himself with France. How chilling that Charles V simply accepted that Anne would be removed and put to death before her trial had even taken place.

He wasn’t the only one making assumptions. On the morning of 15th May 1536, while Anne Boleyn prepared herself for her trial, Jane Seymour received a message from the King telling her that “he would send her news at 3 o’clock of the condemnation of the putain.” Obviously there was no need for a trial, really, when the King already knew that Anne would be condemned!

15 Responses to “15th May 1536 – The Trials of Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn”

  1. miladyblue says:

    So, tears were running down Norfolk’s cheeks as he pronounced sentence on his own niece, were there? Crocodile’s tears. I am willing to bet that he was relieved that Anne’s enemies had not made up the equally absurd claim that HE was one of her lovers, and that the “trial” had gone as planned before anyone COULD make such an allegation. That snake HAD to know what was going to happen, and helped hasten it, so as to save his own useless hide.

    I am only sorry that Henry croaked before Thomas Howard’s own execution could be carried out in 1547. The man was completely and utterly contemptible.

    • Baroness Von Reis says:

      Miladyblue,Totally agree with you,Norfrolk was the one who gave Queen Anne her sentence,What a GUY!!! Her own uncle he to should have been ask to step down,being relation to the Queen as for his tiers HOG WASH. He wanted to climb the Kings ladder just as much as anyone. THX Baroness

  2. Baroness Von Reis says:

    Truely the king was sinning out of control and I do mean ,SINNING not SPINNING,and I to very happy that the King lived to see Cromwells head fly off his person,Norforlk to,as I always say what COMES around GOES around, for all who sin,I can see poor Henry, Cromwell and all th others in the devils house toasting hot dogs,and saying we really did make a BIG MISTAKE HENRY/CROMWELL. Do you think we can conjure something up to get us out of this place??? I do not jest!

  3. Anne Barnhill says:

    Oh, this is all a sad business and so very corrupt! Anne and George could have given the best speeches of all time, had their own proof of innocence in hand and still, they would be killed. Because Henry wanted it so. How could he have loved Anne all those years and then turned so quickly against her? That is the one question I want answered. I don’t think anyone knows execpt Henry and he isn’t here to tell us. Oh, maybe we could have a seance! LOL

    • Deborah says:

      You have to remember, Henry did the exact same thing to Katharine. He was married to her for many years, and thought nothing of setting her aside, leaving her to die a lonely death without ever seeing her dear daughter again. I don’t think Henry saw anything wrong with “out with the old and in with the new” as long as it got him what he wanted. Neither Katharine nor Anne gave him what he wanted, a son, so he felt justified in removing them. Sad.

  4. Anne McCord says:

    The question of why Henry turned on Anne is fairly easy to conjecture. For one, the man had a special status and position no one else around him had: he was divinely empowered to do whatever he wanted (within the very interpretable guidelines set out by scripture, to reinforce the divine backing every king needed to be perceived as having). He had the divine right to rule, making him God’s representative on earth. Everyone around him (whether they saw through this convention or not) had to play the game or else. In Anne’s case, she definitely learned just how to work the system, and benefited from it at first. In the end, because she also stood up to him by expressing her displeasure (and did not deliver on her promise of a son), he saw her as opposed (therefore an emissary of the “devil”, the deceiver), and everyone knows God’s opposition must fall. Thus, this very fascinating extreme drama which has succeeded in captivating our imagination through time.

    • WilesWales says:

      I really must agree with Ann McCord on this one. Everyone already knows, or i at least hope they know -yikes- the history of the trial the Uncle in “Crocodile tears (which only served him to the purpose of the Howard family being broought down right then and there for the Seymours), and all the other things. Anne McCord hits right on what really happened, and just as he was questioning the verse in Leviticus, it was mentioned that it was quite alright to mention what the king should do, and not what he could do. So some of his more sinister advisors such as Thomas Cromwell told him what he could do. That was the start of the the break with Rome, etc. We must also remember that the great Sir Thomas More the author of the great classic, “Utopia,” was a special friend to Henry and Anne had Henry order his death and other good friends or his, reluctantly, to the axe in 1536, so he was not very happy with her over that one either. So things do compound in the mind when adding all these things together, along with two failed pregancies and no male heir.

      From her Anne McCord tells it just right; and at the end having an arguement with Henry was not the best idea in the world as she had just gotten up from the bed of birth, which was not on her side as she had not produced the livng male heir Henry had bee waiting for since 1509 when he married Katharine. As under the “Act of Supremacy” dictated he was the head of the church in England. Thus making for the people the decision of whether they were rule by the Pope or by the King. Now Anne Mcord has hit it right on the button!!! The promise of a son was not delivered and so he saw Anne (and the Seymours had already moved in with Jane Seymour, as after Anne’s head was lifted for the crowd on May 19th, a gun fire was shot and he went straight to the Seymours from there (a relationship like that doesn’t happen in less than a month as there really was no modern technology, per se. Anne McCord end is of a great thinker, and I thank her very much for her thinking before she writes.

      I know that Anne and George were innocent of all charges, and I will defend Queen Anne for as long as I am around! She did, however, give us Queen Elizabeth, who was the greatest absolute monarch England ever had!

      This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes – Psalm 118:23

  5. Rosalie says:

    I think there was something personal in the beheadings of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Think about it. These two queens, different though they were, had some common denominators. I think there was a physical attraction and problem. We’ll never know. But they were both charged with adultery and this comes very close to the King’s person. I think Henry was humiliated by the physical nature of these two particular women. He didn’t pack them off to I’ve in obscurity: he obliterated them. Doesn’t it sound as if he was smarting by something he saw as rejection? Or failure? And couldn’t admit to it.

    These are 21st century words — inappropriate to describe the events of the 16th century. But one sees similar behavior in rejected or humiliated people today. Thank goodness no one person has the absolute power to order an execution.

    • WilesWales says:

      We must rememeber the bottom line her; Anne was innocent and Catherine was guilty. Thank you! WilesWales!

  6. Rosalie says:

    Nevertheless the similarities of these two queens (cousins) and their treatment is unlike that of any of the others. Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves were political alliances.

    The two beheaded queens were married “for love” to a very physically driven man. It seems as if he reacted in a very jilted-loverish way. And was afraid of what these women might kiss-and-tell about. See the whole George Boleyn “impotence” discussion.

    Innocence versus guilt for these two has always been debated. It’s really interesting to look at the sequence of events and think of the motivation. Who stands to gain — and what IS the gain?

  7. Dawn 1st says:

    There is nothing I can add to express how awful and injust these trials were that hasn’t been said 10 fold, the whole tragic event is beyond belief.
    Though I do think that when it comes to blame, whether we think it should be placed on Cromwell or Norfolk, or any other co-conspirators that were linked to Anne’s downfall, we have to remember who wanted this, who ordered this, and who signed the death warrents, and that is Henry himself, not someone you would want to pee off at this stage in his life. And these other players in this terrible time were doing what they were told, otherwise they would have found themselves in the same situation as Anne, (which they did, eventually), they were too scared to refuse him, in anything, and as callous as it sounds, Cromwell, Norfolk and the rest who were ‘bought’, would have probably thought on the lines of ‘rather her head than mine’, a case of ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t’. A bad situation, a bad time and a bad place to be..Personally I think everyone involved were victims in one way or another, and very few came out of it unscathed.

  8. Lisby says:

    What is missing for us, as we try to look at what happened during the first half of 1536, is a real understanding of the personal dynamic between Anne and Henry. We can point to outside influences that may have played a role in Henry abandoning Anne and ordering her murder, but what we don’t have, and sadly will never have, is an understanding of the pair as a couple, for surely this played an enormous role in Anne’s fate.

    Here are my thoughts: It is clear that what spawned Henry’s original attraction to Anne was sexual. When he was denied, his desired blossomed into full blown obsession. In most cases, when a woman is the object of obsession, she realizes that no good can come of it and tries to escape. Anne, I think, certainly did so at the onset, but at some point–and I suspect to “get him off her back,” as we say it today–she made the “marry me or nothing” proposal thinking that surely it would be the end of it. But he took her seriously and at some point she signed onto the deal as well. She became a willing participant in the mania that was driving him. He had, as we say today, her “buy-in.”

    By the time Anne became queen, Henry and Anne had been a couple for a number of years, joint conspirators ardently working toward his unrealistic goal, which was an impossibly idyllic marital relationship blessed by many sons wherein he called every shot. By the day of her coronation, it may well be that Henry’s obsession was at its zenith. When sons did not quickly follow, when the realities of marriage set in–in short, when Anne did not keep her side of the bargain to his unattainable standards, he was on the arc downward and away from her. Henry acted as many men today do when an unrealistic obsession with a woman does not bring him what he thinks it will–he kills her. It happens all the time, everywhere. It just so happened in this case that he was a king who could have others do the killing for him rather than shoot her or strangle her with his own hands. But he murdered her nonetheless.

    So yes, we can look at all the outside players and how they contributed to Henry’s madness, but in the end, I think, we can chalk it up to the same outcomes of mental illness in obsessive men that we still see commonly today.

  9. Baroness Von Reis says:

    I think, What Henry could not get,he would just take it, he did not care only about himself,and thats very clear,if he wanted you gone you were gone.He board to easy,look at his track record. Anne hated him for many years 6 years,Katherin Howard was very young,when Henry started the chase,if she loved Henry why did she cheat???Never the less no one should suffer what Henry put them through,thank God he did’nt burn Anne. Henry was just a large spoiled child,but God will be his Judge King or not,we will all be judged by the powre up above.I no one thing for sure Henrys not in heaven.

  10. Helen H says:

    Wiles Wales, Anne did not order Thomas More,s death, Henry did because More would not take the oath that Henry was head of the church. Since that amounted to treason he was put to death. Henry, of course, blamed Anne, as Henry” was never at fault” Where passion rules as in Henrys case only death will cleanse. He could not fault himself for no male heir so it was Anne’s fault. With Catherine if was an old man wanting his youth, no one said no to the King so Catherine had to marry him (as a childlike woman she loved the prestige but not the old sick man) So she took her “pleasure” elsewhere. All in all a very sad and tragic time. Anne died for no reason but a mans vanity, Catherine for a legitimate crime but also an old mans vanity.

    • Claire says:

      I think Thomas More’s execution showed how Henry could turn his feelings on and off or go from love to hatred if he felt that people had crossed him or let him down in some way. More had been a real father figure and friend to Henry, yet when he didn’t agree with Henry (and even tried to keep his feelings to himself out of respect for the King), Henry punished him. It was the same with Catherine and Mary, who were treated appallingly, with Bishop Fisher and then with Anne and George.

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