Dressed in a gown of deep black with a crimson petticoat and wearing a hat with a black and white feather on it Anne prepared to face her trial. The trail was held in the King’s Hall at the Tower of London. Anne, still being the Queen of England was to face a jury of her own peers – though to say that they were unbiased would be a huge understatement. The men upon the jury – men including Charles Brandon the Duke of Suffolk who was well known to hate Anne, were either very close friends with the King or allies of Mary Tudor or the Seymour family – men whom held no love in their hearts for Anne Boleyn.
Entering the King’s hall Anne must have known that she would be facing a losing battle this day. With Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton already found guilty of treason against the King and sentenced to death there was little chance, if any at all, that Anne would be found innocent. No, it would seem that the trial of Anne Boleyn was for mere appearances only. Anne was still the Queen of England and thus had the right to a trial by a jury of her peers by the King’s law – the outcome of this trial whoever seems to have already been decided.
Hundreds upon hundreds of people came to the Tower to see Anne Boleyn’s trial – for the very Queen of England to be tried for adultery, incest and treason was surely no light matter! Such were the number of people that a platform had to be constructed in the middle of the hall for Anne to sit on. At the other end of the hall sat her Uncle the Duke of Norfolk who was to preside over the events. Official documents of the trial have been lost over time, but word of mouth, letters and reports passed on all collaborate that Anne entered the King’s hall with such poise and dignity only befitting a Queen. Presenting herself to the jury Anne showed no sign of fear or nerves. She then gave a small curtsey to the jury before taking a seat which had been prepared for her upon the middle of the platform. Even in this, one of her most terrifying hours, with hundreds upon hundreds of eyes all staring at her, somehow Anne still managed to compose herself to show dignity and grace.
Then the charges were read to Anne, every sordid, horrible, scandalous detail was revealed to all of those persons within the hall. It is said that throughout this indignity Anne sat here, poised and beautiful, showing no sign of disgust or guilt. After this she was asked how she pleaded, the Queen replied that she was not guilty of all charges.
Those trying Anne for her crimes argued staunchly of her guilt, giving the evidence presented at the Westminster and Kent indictments as examples of the horrendous crimes Anne had committed against her husband, the King of England. For her part Anne defended herself with great dignity and spirit, such was the very nature of Anne Boleyn. She adamantly denied all the charges against her and argued that ‘she had maintained her honour and her chastity all her life long.’ (Weir 2009, pg. 215) She used her famous wit, charm and intelligence to put up a challenging defence in the case of her innocence that it is said that some of those in the audience were even starting to doubt if these charges were real or not.
But all of this, Anne’s great spirit and fight for her innocence was of no use. One by one each member of the jury stood and gave their verdict – every man said guilty. Anne Boleyn, the Queen of England had been found guilty of all the charges presented before her, adultery, incest and treason. I can only imagine that this verdict would not have come as a surprise to Anne, sitting there before hundreds upon hundreds of people, facing a jury of men she knew. This was a trial that she had no choice but to lose.
After the verdict was given and Anne’s guilt declared she was asked to remove her crown and all her titles. (I do not think Anne was actually wearing a crown at this stage – as reports say that she was wearing a hat, but I can only presume that removing her crown is a figurative term meaning that she must remove all rights to titles and possessions.) After this humiliation Anne’s sentence was read out. It has been suggested that prior to this Anne was worried about her fate, not sure what would happen to her if she was to be condemned. Perhaps she had hoped she would be sent to a nunnery or that she would be divorced and forced to live out her days in prison. What sentence befell her must have been a huge shock. The Duke of Norfolk, Anne’s uncle then read out her sentence, ‘Because thou hast offended against our sovereign the King’s Grace in committing treason against his person, the law of the realm is this, that though hast deserved death, and thy judgement is this: that thou shalt be burnt 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’ (Weir 2009 pg. 218). Somehow, despite hearing the news that she was to die either by burning or having her head removed from her body Anne managed to hold her composure. How is far beyond me, but this is Anne Boleyn, a woman of immense strength and complexity.
In reply to this fateful sentence Anne is said to have replied...
“My lords, I will not say your sentence is unjust, nor presume that my reasons can prevail against your convictions. I am willing to believe that you have sufficient reasons for what you have done; but then they must be other than those which have been produced in court, for I am clear of all the offences which you then laid to my charge. I have ever been a faithful wife to the King, though I do not say I have always shown him that humility which his goodness to me, and the honours to which he raised me, merited. I confess I have had jealous fancies and suspicions of him, which I had not discretion enough, and wisdom, to conceal at all times. 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, for He who saveth from death hath taught me how to die, and He will strengthen my faith. Think not, however, that I am so bewildered in my mind as not to lay the honour of my chastity to heart now in mine extremity, when I have maintained it all my life long, much as ever queen did. I know these, my last words, will avail me nothing but for the justification of my chastity and honour. As for my brother and those others who are unjustly condemned, I would willingly suffer many deaths to deliver them, but since I see it so pleases the King, I shall willingly accompany them in death, with this assurance, that I shall lead an endless life with them in peace and joy, where I will pray to God for the King and for you, my lords.”(Weir 2009, pg. 219 – 220)
I find this reply very interesting as not once does Anne ever admit that she has ever been guilty of the crimes she was charged with. She shows that she is human, admitting to have faults such as jealousy, suspicion and rage and goes on to protest her innocence admirably declaring that she has not sinned against Henry in any other manner and that she has preserved herself for her husband only. The fact that she would willingly give her life for those whom have been condemned along side of her (Norris, Weston, Brereton, Smeaton and soon her brother) is an extremely brave and beautiful gesture. Once again despite knowing that she will soon die (although in which manner is yet to be decided); Anne shows amazing composure and beauty in her speech.
After her speech Anne curtsied again to those who had just convicted her to death and was lead out of the King’s hall back to the Queen’s lodgings. The gaoler that was with her turned his axe inwards to show all those that witness that Anne Boleyn had been sentenced to death.
After Anne’s trial her brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford was lead into the King’s hall and his trial commenced. Like Anne he was judged by his fellow peers, all whom held no love for him. Now that Norris, Weston, Brereton, Smeaton and his own sister had been found guilty and sentenced to death there was no hope for George. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges presented and although he put up a brave fight and is said to have challenged the charges with great wit he too was found guilty of incest and treason and sentenced to death. He was lead out of the King’s hall and back to his lodgings where he was to await his death.
Rumour has it that upon hearing the news of his wife’s guilty verdict that Henry rejoiced and then proclaimed that he believed that possibly a hundred men had slept with Anne. He then went on to say that he believed Anne to have used witchcraft and magic to keep him under a spell so that he may continue to love her despite her evil doings. Be this reaction true or not it does help to show the lack of compassion or grief that Henry held over the news that his wife, a woman whom he had once loved, was now sentenced to death. In truth it is more probable that Henry wanted Anne dead, that to be rid of her would be rid of a great thorn in his side and with Anne gone he could move on to Jane, a woman whom held a new future and possibilities for him. It should also be noted that on May 13th, even before Anne’s trial, Henry had her household disbanded. Her servants, musicians, dress makers, priests, guards, ushers and ladies in waiting were all informed that their services to Queen Anne were no longer needed. If this was not a sign of Henry’s true intentions then I do not know what is! Henry wanted Anne gone, he wanted her dead, and now his desire was granted.
For Anne she was now back in the Queen’s lodgings her fate sealed. She had fought bravely to the end, proclaiming her innocence valiantly and holding herself with great dignity and poise - the true spirit of Anne Boleyn always shinning through. Yet now her fate was sealed and all she could do now was make her peace with God and await her death, however that may be.
This is one of Anne Boleyn’s Book of Hours. This book contains a collection of prayers and psalms that could be read throughout the day. Within the pages of this book Anne wrote ‘Remember me when you do pray that hope doth lead from day to day.’ It has been proposed that Anne made this inscription during her last days within the Tower of London. (I have been fortunate enough to see Anne’s Book of Hours at Hever Castle and I can say that it is absolutely stunning and humbling to see in person, seeing her inscription sent shivers down my spine. I will always remember.)