Queens had been accused of adultery or treason in the past. Some, like Eleanor of Aquitaine, had even incited rebellion against their husbands and kings. But their punishment had always been to be placed under house arrest in one of their own palaces. Queens and kings were above mortal judgement and criminal justice. They were accountable only to God once anointed, a sacred moment that created a mystical bond with the Almighty.
Some must have wondered why Henry was doing this. Why would he publicly air his shame in being cuckolded by Anne Boleyn? Men whose wives cheated were objects of ridicule, weak men who could not even keep their own wives in check. It was an injury to the king's own dignity, for if a man could not rule his own household, how could he rule a nation? And, in allowing Anne to be judged by the peers of England, he was putting any monarch in a position to be judged by earthly men. It was a dangerous precedent to set.
But Henry wasn't worrying about such things in the early part of May, 1536. He was too busy partying like a fratboy, taking a barge of musicians and laughing courtiers down the river nightly to Jane Seymour's house. Ambassador Chapuys, who despised Anne Boleyn and was delighted at her fall, even thought it in poor taste. He wrote in one of his dispatches to the Emperor:
Although the generality of people here are glad of the execution of the said concubine, still a few find fault and grumble at the manner in which the proceedings against her have been conducted, and the condemnation of her and the rest, which is generally thought strange enough.You never saw prince nor man who made greater show of his cuckold’s horns or bore them more pleasantly. I leave you to imagine the cause ...
People speak variously about the King, and certainly the slander will not cease when they hear of what passed and is passing between him and his new mistress, Jane Seymour. Already it sounds badly in the ears of the public that the King, after such ignominy and discredit as the concubine has brought on his head, should manifest more joy and pleasure now, since her arrest and trial, than he has ever done on other occasions, for he has daily gone out to dine here and there with ladies, and sometimes has remained with them till after midnight.
I hear that on one occasion, returning by the river to Greenwich, the royal barge was actually filled with minstrels and musicians of his chamber, playing on all sorts of instruments or singing; which state of things was by many a one compared to the joy and pleasure a man feels in getting rid of a thin, old, and vicious hack in the hope of getting soon a fine horse to ride—a very peculiarly agreeable task for this king.
Henry left the details to his councilors and Thomas Cromwell, and they were busy those first couple of weeks building a case against the queen.
Now, as Anne Boleyn stepped from her barge into the gray stone fortress, she was greeted by William Kingston, the constable of the Tower. When she had stayed here the night before her coronation, only a thousand days ago, Kingston had been all welcoming smiles. Now, he was her jailor. Kingston was always unfailingly courteous to her, but Anne was his prisoner and he would do his duty, just as Anne had always done hers.
Anne asked, somewhat timorously,
"Master Kingston, shall I go into a dungeon?"
Kingston replied that she would be lodged in the apartments she had occupied before her coronation. He wrote to the council that she fell to her knees with the exclamation it was too good for her and begged Jesus to have mercy on her.
As he drew her to her feet, Anne began, in his words:
"weeping a great pace, and in the same sorrow fell into a great laughing, and she hath done many times since.”
Charles Wriothesley, a chronicler of the Tudor age, described it this way:
"Anne Bolleine was brought to the Towre of London… entring in, she fell downe on her knees before the said lordes, beseeching God to helpe her as she was not giltie of her a accusement …"
Kingston reported that Anne asked about her family, where her father and brother was and feared her mother - who was ailing from a cough - would die of sorrow. Was Anne hoping they would intercede on her behalf? Kingston, for whatever reason, lied about George Boleyn and said he was still at court. He had actually been arrested before Anne was.
In her apartments, Anne met with the ladies who were to serve her while she was incarcerated. Among them were the Mistress Coffin, Mistress Stonor, Elizabeth Wood Boleyn (married to Anne Boleyn's father's younger brother), Lady Shelton (who had been assigned previously to guard Princess Mary, and who may have resented Anne for nudging Madge Shelton to become the mistress of the king), and Lady Kingston. None of these women was a friend or partisan of Anne Boleyn. Lady Kingston - in fact - was a friend of Princess Mary.
These women were instructed to write down every word Anne said. Henry knew his wife well, and knew that given sufficient stress and the illusion of privacy, Anne would break down and babble hysterically. Had she had her court of ladies around her, Anne probably would have found it within herself to keep her regal demeanor, and indeed, during her two last public appearances, Anne was every inch the queen.
But now, during the worst moments of her life, Anne wondered aloud what sort of "evidence" the council could uncover that could be used against her. She spoke of a few flirtatious encounters, and when those were twisted out of context, they were used to convict her.
Anne bitterly complained about how cruel it was for the king to put around her, "such as I have never loved." But she spoke with these women just the same. Did they pretend sympathy to get her talking? Or was Anne simply unable to hold back the gush of words that came with her terror and intense stress?
termagant, unable to get along with members of her own sex because of her jealousy or vanity, but if she was really that bitchy, such an instruction would not have been necessary.
They needn't have worried. The ladies took every chance they got to taunt her. When Anne learned on the 5th of May that her brother was actually in the Tower, she worried about where he was being housed, and whether he and the other prisoners had beds to sleep on. One of the ladies retorted that Anne's interest in "unseemly" matters like men's beds is what had gotten her into this mess.
Kingston reported that Anne silenced them with the only weapon she had left: etiquette. She was still the Queen of England, and still treated as such during her stay in the Tower. Court etiquette forbid anyone to speak to the queen unless she spoke first. Anne remained silent when she as with those women, and thus, they could not taunt her. It shows there was still some of Anne's fighting spirit in her, under the layers of fear, desperation, and anguish.
For almost two weeks, Anne rattled around in those luxurious apartments, not knowing what was going on in the outside world, except the little her jailors told her. News trickled in: more of her friends and supporters arrested. Anne mourned the fact that these innocent men were being punished for her sake.
Kingston recorded that Anne asked about whether she would be granted a trial.
And then she said, Mr. Kyngston, shall I die without justice? And I said, the poorest subject the Kyng hath, hath justice. And there with she laughed.
It's no wonder she laughed. Anne had seen the king's particular brand of "justice" before and likely didn't expect to fare much better at trial. But she would be able to defend herself against the charges, be able to tell the truth in the eyes of God and the world. If Anne had any hopes, she likely pinned them on the king granting her a pardon.
During those long thirteen days, Anne had nothing to do but pray and worry. She had none of her precious books to wile away the hours, none of her friends to offer comfort and support. Kingston does not record that Anne received any visitors, letters, or care packages from friends. That is not certain evidence she did not receive any, of course, but it seems likely he would have mentioned it, considering he recorded her every word and movement.
Kingston records that Anne's brother George got a letter from his wife, Jane Parker, vowing to go before the king and plead for him. Historians still debate whether this offer was genuine, or if it was Jane's testimony that put him there in the first place.
Anne had seen it before, after Katharine's exile. Her servants and courtiers would be trying to secure a place in Jane Seymour's retinue. Distancing themselves from her was the only safe move to make. But it must have been terribly lonely as she wandered those huge apartments, rooms built to be occupied by hundreds of courtiers, that only now held her and a handful of scowling women.
Did Anne write any letters herself? Kingston records that she asked for permission, but he says nothing about sending them out. A letter exists that is purportedly from Anne to Henry, but there are questions as to its authenticity. A historian in the 18th century wrote about seeing another letter from Anne to Henry in which she angrily rejected a plea deal that would require her to confess, but it's believed to have been destroyed in a library fire.
While Anne paced, prayed, and fretted, stands were erected in the great hall where Anne had her coronation feast only three short years ago. The stadium-style seating allowed for two thousand spectators, and it seemed like it would be a packed house. Anne's arrest was the scandal of the century and everyone was talking about it. There was, of course, the glee of her enemies, and those who had always thought she was a loose woman nodded their heads in approval. But there were also those who felt Anne had been unjustly accused to make way Jane Seymour.
Henry wrote to Jane:
Advertising you that there is a ballad made lately of great derision against us, which, if it go abroad and is seen by you, I pray you pay no manner of regard to it. I am not present informed who is the setter forth of this malignant writing, but if he is found out, he shall be straightly punished for it.
The song is lost to the mists of history. The king's men likely destroyed any written copies of it (assuming there were printed copies) and none of them have survived to the current day.
Anne was never as popular as Katharine, but she had been a good queen, generous to the poor, passionate about education, and reforming the church. She had partisans, and now they were grumbling. To try to quell the gossip, Henry had Jane moved a few miles away, but still ostentatiously visited her every evening.
The nobles were gathering from all over England to sit as judges in Anne's trial. Hand-picked by the council, many of them would sit on the bench with fat bribes in their pockets. The property of the accused was already being divvied up amongst them to ensure they'd have a vested financial interest in a guilty verdict.
On May 11th, the council arrived at the royal apartments in the Tower. They had been instructed by the king to wring a confession from Anne, to show her no respect or delicacy in getting it. But the men were immediately thrown off their game when Anne took control of the meeting as a queen, not as the pitiful, broken prisoner they had expected. She extended her hand for them to kiss and then settled into her chair of estate and motioned her regal permission for them to begin. But the moment they began to speak of her "evil deeds," Anne cut them off. She bluntly said she had never wronged the king, but was imprisoned because he was tired of her, just as he had once tired of Katharine. When they tried again, Anne imperiously ordered them from the room, and as she was still the Queen of England, they could not dare to disobey.
The council had expected to badger a helpless woman into submission. Instead, Anne Boleyn showed them the door. She would not be cowed. She would not be frightened into agreeing to a false confession to save her skin. As her daughter would say, decades later, Anne Boleyn might have the small and seemingly fragile body of a woman, but she had the heart and stomach of a king.
At the door, the Duke of Norfolk turned, probably because he was unable to resist one last chance to needle his niece. He was just that kind of guy. He said if her brother shared her guilt, their punishment would be great indeed. To which Anne retorted that her brother had been arrested so there would be no one to stand up for her. One wonders if Norfolk understood that particularly pointed comment.
On the evening of May 14, Anne was told her trial would begin in the morning. Until this moment, she probably didn't think Henry would go through with it. Anne may have thought he wouldn't want all of the salacious details aired in public, and would just leave her in the Tower to stew for a bit before magnanimously releasing her to enter a convent. She was told that her household had been dissolved only a few days prior, so she likely accepted that however this played out, she would never be queen again.
She likely did not know the king had already ordered the swordsman of Calais to come to perform the execution, long before the victim had even been put on trial.