Anne Boleyn: Guilty or Innocent?
On May 15th 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. When the charges were presented to Anne she was asked how she pleaded, the Queen replied that she was not guilty of all charges.
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) Yet this was of no use as 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.
After the verdict was given and Anne’s guilt declared she was asked to remove her crown and all her titles. After this humiliation Anne’s sentence was read out. 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).
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 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.
On May 17th Archbishop Cranmer declared the annulment of the marriage between Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII. There was no official reason for why the marriage was annulled but it is believed to be due to consanguinity – meaning that due to Henry’s previous sexual relationship with Anne’s sister Mary, it would have put Anne within the first degree of affinity to Henry; essentially he would have been marrying his sister. Thus it would have been against Cannon law for Henry to marry Anne.
What makes this whole situation even more confusing is that if Anne’s marriage to Henry was annulled, as thus meaning they were never legally married, how could she have committed adultery? How can one commit adultery if the person is not married? It seems as though this was just another loop hole that was glossed over in the rush to see Anne Boleyn executed.
Anne Boleyn being brought into the Tower of London (Painter unknown).
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.