Friday, 2 May 2014

The Arrest of Queen Anne Boleyn

On this day in history, Tuesday 2 May 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn, the second consort of Henry VIII, was arrested on charges of high treason and taken to the Tower of London. According to contemporary sources, the Queen had been watching a game of tennis when she was disturbed by a messenger arriving from the Privy Council, who informed her that she must present herself by order of the Council, 'by order of the King'. This must have appeared ominous and, given the mounting tensions in the past few weeks and the king's mysterious behaviour during the May Day jousts the day before, Anne must have been unsettled and, quite possibly, in fear for her life.

Anne was noted for her intelligence and wit, and it seems incredible to believe that she was ignorant that something momentous was afoot. On 26 April, six days before her arrest, she had, famously, entreated the future Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker to take care of her infant daughter, Princess Elizabeth, should anything happen to her. A few days later, she had publicly berated the musician Mark Smeaton for his conduct towards her, and around the same time she accused the courtier Henry Norris of "seeking to have me", in effect, looking for "dead men's shoes" and wishing the death of the king. Norris was appalled at her suggestion, and Anne only belatedly realised the danger in what she had said. 

Appearing before the Privy Council as ordered, the Queen was informed that she was charged with committing adultery with three men: Smeaton, Norris and a third unnamed man; and she was also told that both Norris and Smeaton had confessed - a lie, for Norris had steadfastly maintained his innocence, and would continue to do so. Only Smeaton, perhaps because he was tortured, insisted that he had had sexual intercourse with Anne. At 2 o'clock that afternoon, she was escorted to the Tower, the first queen of England to be imprisoned there. She would not be the last, and she would never leave its walls except to take the short journey to the scaffold.

Anne was met by Sir William Kingston, the Constable of the Tower, upon her arrival. He was to treat her with respect, courtesy and admiration, although it is unknown whether or not he personally believed in her innocence. She asked him upon her arrival: "Master Kingston, shall I go into a dungeon?" When he promised her that no, she would instead occupy the suite in which she had housed during her coronation, she reputedly began laughing and cried: "It is too good for me". She began weeping at the same time. Anne then asked the Constable why she was in the Tower, clearly disbelieving the official statement that she was incarcerated because of suspected adultery. She was clearly aware that Norris was imprisoned alongside her, for she stated: "O Norris, hast thou accused me? Thou art in the Tower with me, and thou and I shall die together". Clearly she had little hope. Anne then feared that her mother would "die of sorrow" upon hearing the news, while also asking for news of her brother. 

Anne and George Boleyn, "Fallen in Love".

That very day, Henry Norris had also been imprisoned in the Tower. The king had, obviously, not believed Norris' adamant protestations of his innocence. The Imperial ambassador wrote to Emperor Charles V that Anne's brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, "has also been lodged in the Tower, but more than six hours after the hours, and three or four before his sister". Kingston decided not to inform the hysterical Queen that her beloved brother was, in fact, imprisoned in the very same fortress as her. She would find that out soon enough. 

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