Anne Boleyn: Guilty or Innocent?
A question that continues to surround Anne Boleyn even four hundred and seventy six years after her death is: was she guilty of committing adultery against her husband King Henry VIII? I suppose the answer to this question greatly depends on which historian you draw information from. Many leading historians such as Eric Ives, Alison Weir, Antonia Fraser and Claire Ridgway do not believe that Anne Boleyn was guilty of having an affair. Yet G.W. Bernard proposes that in fact Anne Boleyn did cheat on her husband with Henry Norris and possibly Mark Smeaton and Francis Weston. I think to answer this question it is up to each person to look at the evidence and decide for themselves. Certainly I do not believe that Anne was guilty of anything more than being a woman far beyond her times.
Anne Boleyn. Portrait from the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Anne Boleyn was arrested on May 2nd 1536 and was taken to the Tower of London and lodged in the Queen’s lodgings (which no longer exist as they did in Anne’s day). She was accused of having inappropriate liaisons with Mark Smeaton her musician, Sir Henry Norris, Groom of the Stool, Sir Francis Weston, page to the King, Sir William Brereton, Groom of the Privy Chamber and her brother George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford.
On May 10th official legal proceedings began against Anne Boleyn and her fellow accused. A jury of noblemen were presented with various evidences against Anne showing proof of not only her adultery against her husband the King, but also of incest with her brother and treason in plotting the Kings death. Satisfied that enough evidence was gathered the jury at Westminster Hall wrote this indictment…
“Record of the Indictment found at Westminster on Wednesday next after three weeks of Easter: that whereas Queen Anne has been the wife of Henry VIII for three years and more, she, despising the solemn, not to mention most excellent and noble marriage between our lord the King and the same lady the Queen, but even at he same time having in her heart malice against our lord the King, seduced by evil and not having God before her eyes, and following daily her frail and carnal appetites, 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 Oct 6th, 25 Henry VIII  at Westminster, and divers days before and after, she procured, by sweet words, kisses, touches and otherwise, Hen. Norris, of Westminster, gentleman 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, both before and after, sometimes by his procurement and sometimes by that of the Queen.
Also the Queen, 3 Dec. 25 Hen. VIII , and divers days before and after, procured William Brereton, Esquire, late of Westminster, one of the gentlemen of the King’s Privy Chamber, to have illicit intercourse with her, whereby he did so on 8 Dec. 25 Hen. VIII  at Hampton Court, in the parish of Little Hampton, and on several 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 of Westminster, one of the gentlemen of the King’s Privy Chamber, to have illicit intercourse with her, and that the Act was committed at Westminster 20 May 26 Hen. VIII .
Also the Queen 12 April 26 Hen. VIII , and divers days before and since, at Westminster, also incited/procured Mark Smeaton, a performer on musical instruments, a person specified as of low degree, promoted for his skill to be a groom of the Privy Chamber, to violate her, whereby he did so at Westminster, 26 April 27 Hen. VIII .
Also that the Queen, 2 Nov. 27 Hen. VIII  and several times before and after, by means therein stated, procured and incited her own natural brother, George Boleyn, knight, Lord Rochford, 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, against the commands of the Almighty God, and all laws human and divine, whereby he, despising the commands of God, and all other human laws, 5 Nov. 27 Henry VIII , violated and carnally knew the said Queen, his own sister, at Westminster, which he also did on divers days before and after, sometimes by his own procurement and sometimes by the Queen’s.
Furthermore, they being thus inflamed by carnal love of the Queen, and having become very jealous of each other, did, in order to secure her affections, satisfy her inordinate desires; and that the Queen was equally jealous of the Lord Rochford, and other the before-mentioned traitors that she would not allow them to hold any familiarity with any other woman without exhibiting her exceeding displeasure and indignation. Moreover, the said Lord Rochford, Norris, Brereton, Weston and Smeaton, 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, would not allow them to show familiarity with any other woman without her exceeding displeasure and indignation; and that on 27. Nov. 27 Hen. VIII  and other days before and after, at Westminster, she gave them great gifts to inveigle them to her will. Furthermore that the Queen and other of the said traitors, jointly and severally, 31 Oct. 27 Henry VIII , at Westminster, and at various times before and after, compassed and imagined the King’s death; and that the Queen had frequently promised to marry some one of the traitors whenever the King should depart this life, affirming she would never love the King in her heart. Furthermore, that the King having come within a short time before to the knowledge of, and meditating upon, the false and detestable crimes, vices and treasons committed against himself within a short time now passed, took such inward displeasure and heaviness, especially for his said Queen’s malice and adultery, that certain harms and perils have befallen his royal body, to the scandal, danger, detriment and derogation of the issue and heirs of the said King and Queen.”(Weir 2009, pg. 181 -183)
Another Grand Jury was convened in Kent on this day to look at the evidence gathered against Anne. As with the day before the jury found the evidence damning and could only conclude that Anne had indeed committed many illicit affairs with Norris, Boleyn, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton as well as plotting to have her husband, the King of England killed.
Claire Ridgway at The Anne Boleyn Files has compiled all the evidence from the 10th and 11th of May inquiries to give an outline of the dates in which Anne supposedly had affairs…
- 6th and 12th October 1533 – Anne and Sir Henry Norris at Westminster
- 16th and 27th November 1533 – Anne and Sir William Brereton at Greenwich
- 3rd and 8th December 1533 – Anne and Sir William Brereton at Hampton Court
- 12th April 1534 – Anne and Mark Smeaton at Westminster (date for Anne procuring Smeaton)
- 12th and 19th May 1534 – Anne and Mark Smeaton at Greenwich
- 8th and 20th May 1534 – Anne and Sir Francis Weston at Westminster
- 6th and 20th June 1534 – Anne and Sir Francis Weston at Greenwich
- 26th April 1535 – Anne and Mark Smeaton at Westminster
- 31st October 1535 – Anne and some of the men compassed the King’s death at Westminster
- 2nd and 5th November 1535 – Anne and her brother George Boleyn at Westminster
- 27th November 1535 – Anne gave gifts to the men at Westminster
- 22nd and 29th December 1535 – Anne and her brother George Boleyn at Eltham Palace
- 8th January 1536 – Anne compassed the King’s death with Rochford, Norris, Weston and Brereton at Greenwich (Ridgway 2010)
What I find astounding about these dates is that most of them can be disproved; even four hundred centuries after these events took place.
6th and 12th of October 1533: Anne had only given birth to her daughter about a month before. I find it hard to believe that she would want to be jumping into bed with another man. (I certainly know after I gave birth to my daughter I was not thinking about sex for quite some time!)
3rd and 8th of December 1533: Anne was at Greenwich and not at Hampton Court.
12th and 19th of May 1534: Anne was at Richmond not at Greenwich.
April, May and June 1334: Anne was heavily pregnant at this time, as records show that she ‘hath a good belly’. In Tudor times it was not considered safe to sleep with a pregnant woman, especially when she was progressing along and growing bigger for fear of damaging the baby or causing the woman to miscarry. Anne had promised Henry a son so why would she risk losing said promised son by having sex, which could damage or cause her to lose the child? Also on the 20th June when Anne was supposedly to have slept with Weston at Westminster she was in fact at Hampton Court.
27th November 1535: Anne was at Windsor not at Westminster.
8th January 1536: Anne was at Eltham Palace not at Greenwich.
If we can, four hundred and seventy five years later, prove these countless dates and accusations false and incorrect I am sure that they could have also done back when this indictment was brought out. And yet none of these inaccuracies were ever picked up on by the jury that tried Anne. It would lead to suggest that perhaps in the haste of trying to gather damning evidence against Anne that these dates were thrown together from on hand knowledge. Also the fact that the indictment the day before suggests that the affairs could have happened before and after these days, leaving the time frame quite open, could show that all of this information was thrown together quite quickly.
Anne Boleyn after her arrest in the Queen’s Lodgings. Painted in 1835 by Edouard Cibot.
Bernard, G.W. 2010, Anne Boleyn Fatal Attractions, Yale University Press, London.
Fraser, A 2002, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Phoenix Press, London.
Ives, E 2005, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Australia.
Ridgway, C 2010, The Anne Boleyn Files, viewed 1st October 2011, <http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/>.
Starkey, D. 2004, Six Wives The Queens of Henry VIII, Vintage Books, London.
Weir, A 1991, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Grove Press, New York.
Weir, A 2009, The Lady in The Tower The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Jonathan Cape, London.