Monday, May 15, 2017
The Trial of Anne Boleyn
The Trial of Anne Boleyn
On this day in 1536, Anne Boleyn, as well as her brother George, was tried on allegations of adultery and incest. The conclusion of the “trial” was a foregone conclusion. On May 12, four of the men with whom Anne was accused of having engaged in adultery, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, William Brereton and Francis Weston, had already been convicted, and, so goes the adage, it does take two to tango.
Although some incomplete notes of the trial do survive, sadly no transcript is available; it would no doubt make interesting reading. It is clear that both Anne and then George (George’s trial was separate and held after that of Anne) denied all charges against them. Those denials (as well as the expected denials of the other men charged with having committed adultery with Anne) must be accepted at face value. As has been demonstrated by several scholars, most conclusively Eric Ives, Anne and her various co-conspirators could not have been guilty of the charges made – even with the incomplete records available to us today, it can be demonstrated that in numerous instances Anne and a particular gentleman were charged with having committed adultery at a particular time and place when, in fact, either or both of them were at a different place or even two difference places. The truth, however, was not the issue; the outcome of the trial was a foregone conclusion before it ever started. Henry was tired of Anne, and Cromwell had been charged to bring about her fall. End of story.
On May 14, Cramner, Archbishop of Canterbury, had declared the marriage of Henry and Anne to have been invalid ab initio, possibly (the papers as to his determination have been lost) on the basis of her prior contract of marriage to Henry Percy the son of the then Fifth Earl of Northumberland (this Henry would be the Sixth Earl). An alternative basis was that Mary Boleyn, Anne's sister, had been Henry's mistress, and on that basis the marriage could have been invalid based upon consangruity. Regardless as to why, Anne would not die as the Queen of England, having never been validly married to Henry, and their daughter Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth I) was rendered illegitimate.
All of Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, William Brereton and Francis Weston, along with George Boleyn, would be executed on May 17. Anne’s death would not take place until May 19.