Dismantling the Queen's Household

May 13, 1536

Anne's trial was still four days away, but her reign as Queen of England was decisively over. Her servants were informed on this date that Anne's royal household was dissolved. Every servant, from high-born lady in waiting to the lowest chambermaid, was dismissed and told to pack up their things to depart for their own homes.

For the nobles, this was a minor inconvenience, or perhaps even a small vacation, as they returned to their family estates. Many of them would be recalled in just a few weeks to serve the new queen, Jane Seymour. (At this point, Henry was still coyly protesting he had no intention of marrying again, unless his subjects asked him. His council would obediently make that request a few days later.)

For the lower servants, it must have been a terrifying time. Most of them didn't have a home outside of court, and without social safety nets, their families could face starvation. There must have been frantic scrambling as they tried to find jobs with another noble household, begging their connections to find them a place.

Royal households were a complex system of patronage. Anne personally selected the people to fill the more important positions, giving favor to the friends she wanted around her every day, but she was also compelled to find positions for the highest nobles in the land, even if she wasn't fond of them. Those people, in turn, appointed their friends and favorite servants to the positions that supported theirs. All told, Anne's household comprised hundreds of people, including the servants of the nobles who served the queen, all the way down to the charwomen who cleaned the fireplaces.

By breaking up her household, Henry was making a very clear announcement. Even if Anne - by some miracle - was found not guilty at trial, she would no longer live at court as Henry's queen. Her banners and badges were ordered torn down, soon to be replaced with Jane Seymour's. Her rooms were emptied of her property, sold or tucked away into the king's treasure houses. Anne's clothing and jewels would be recycled to make things for Jane. The queen's apartments, which had once been filled with music and laughter now echoed with silence, waiting for their new occupant.

The task of erasing Anne Boleyn from memory had begun.

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