The Last Spring of Anne Boleyn

April 27

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

Robert Herrick. 1591–1674

Outside my window this morning, the birds are trilling amid the dogwood blossoms. The sun shines bright in the mellow blue sky. I'm thinking about the beauty and sweet promise of spring, but I'm also thinking of what a terrible time this was for Anne Boleyn.

It seems the major events of Anne's life all took place in the spring. She and Henry Percy became involved in the spring of 1522. Henry began pursuing Anne in the spring of 1526. She was declared queen at Easter, 1533. And now, in spring of 1536, she was facing her downfall.

The records say the weather that year was lovely. But the bright, warm skies hid an ugly storm that was brewing behind the scenes. By late April, Anne Boleyn knew she was in serious trouble.

The courage and strength it took for her to behave as though everything was normal still amazes me. Anne went through the motions of being a Tudor queen with dignity and poise. The king, too, gave all outward appearance of normalcy.

Though Henry was spending his nights in other palaces - where Jane Seymour was always lodged nearby - he appeared at Anne's side for events, and they were able to present the image of a cordial relationship to the public. He dined in Anne's apartments, went with her to mass, and still insisted foreign courts should recognize the legitimacy of his marriage.

But behind the scenes, Henry was devising a way to rid himself of the woman he had come to despise. As he stood smiling by her side, he was plotting her death.

Anne had to have known Henry was trying to get rid of her. If we know about it - and we do, from the letters of Chapuys to the Imperial court - then Anne heard the gossip, too. She still had powerful supporters who kept her informed of what was going on.

Anne had to have been terrified, sick with worry and anxiety. What was Henry planning? It looked like he was trying to find a way to annul their marriage. He was asking bishops about the validity of his union to Anne. It had gotten to the point where Princess Mary's supporters were writing to her and telling her to be of good cheer, because Anne would be gone soon.

On the 21st of April, Chapuys noted as an aside that Cromwell had told the French ambassador not to broach the topic of Princess Elizabeth's marriage. Anne, who supported the French, must have been disturbed that there was no discussion of a marital alliance for the princess. Whatever was happening, it was affecting her beloved daughter, as well.

On the 24th of April, a commission of Oyer and Terminer was created at Westminster. The court dealt with treason charges, and other serious crimes, and so Anne may have thought it was for someone who had denied the royal supremacy, assuming she knew about it. She had so many other things on her mind, she might not have given it a second thought.

The commission was tasked with investigating and drawing up the indictment against Anne Boleyn for treason and adultery. The day after the commission was created, Henry wrote a letter referring to Anne as his "entirely beloved" wife. The wife he had already decided would have to die in order to ensure his marriage to Jane Seymour was unchallenged, and his heir with her was entirely legitimate. Even as Henry wrote those words, he knew Anne Boleyn would be dead before the letter arrived at its destination.

The plot was set in motion. Maybe Anne knew it. On the 26th, she asked her chaplain to watch over her baby daughter if anything happened to her. He spent the rest of his life trying to fulfill that request.

Another courtier later told Elizabeth he had seen her mother standing behind Henry at a window, pleading with him with her baby in her arms. Henry, with a stony and angry expression, ignored her.

Anne Boleyn was an amazing woman. She managed - somehow - to behave as though nothing were amiss. She performed her court duties, attended mass, even continuing to insist on proper decorum for her courtiers. Anne always managed to keep her composure in public; it was only behind the scenes that she broke down. We don't have any records of her inner turmoil at this time. Only the letters of the courtiers and the privy purse expenses give us insight into what was happening.

The court records reveal that during the last months of her life, Anne ordered clothing for her daughter.

18 Jan.:—Boat-hire from Greenwich to London and back to take measure of caps for my lady Princess, and again to fetch the Princess's purple satin cap to mend it.
23 Jan.:—A purple satin cap, laid with a rich caul of gold, the work being roundelles of damask gold, made for my lady Princess.
20 Feb.:—"A pair of pyrwykes" for my lady Princess, delivered to my lady mistress.

10 March:—2¼ yds. crimson satin, at 15s., an ell of "tuke" and crimson fringe for the Princess's cradle head.
20 March:—A white satin cap laid with a rich caul of gold for the Princess, and another of crimson satin, 3l.
28 April:—A cap of taffeta covered with a caul of damask gold for the Princess, 4 mks.

As it turned out, this would be the last clothing ordered for Elizabeth for some time, until her governess complained she'd grown out of everything.

Anne may have been steeling her courage by gearing up for a fight against an annulment. She would do everything she could to preserve her rights to the throne as an anointed Queen of England, and the inheritance of her daughter, Elizabeth. It had taken seven years for Henry to rid himself of his last queen, and Anne Boleyn was every bit as tenacious.

Perhaps Henry's questions to the bishops about the validity of his marriage were a red herring to conceal his true intentions, or perhaps he was preparing the groundwork to bastardize Elizabeth once Anne was dead.

In any case, Anne walked these last days of April on tenterhooks, waiting to see what Henry had in store for her.

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