The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon/Chapter 22

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Easter at Greenwich—French and Imperial factions at the English court—Influence of Anne Boleyn—Reports of Anne's conduct submitted to the King—Flying rumours—Secret Commission of Inquiry—Arrests of various persons—Sir Henry Norris and the King—Anne before the Privy Council—Sent to the Tower—Her behaviour and admissions—Evidence taken before the Commission—Trials of Norris, Weston, Brereton, and Smeton—Letter of Weston—Trial of Anne and her brother—Executions—Speech of Rochford on the scaffold—Anne sentenced to die—Makes a confession to Cranmer—Declared to have not been the King's lawful wife—Nature of the confession not known—Execution.

At the moment when the King was bearing himself so proudly at the most important crisis of his reign, orthodox historians require us to believe that he was secretly contriving to rid himself of Anne Boleyn by a foul and false accusation, that he might proceed immediately to a new marriage with another lady. Men who are meditating enormous crimes have usually neither leisure nor attention for public business. It is as certain as anything in history can be certain that to startle Europe with a domestic scandal while mighty issues were at stake on which the fate of England depended was the last subject with which England's King was likely to have been occupied. He was assuming an attitude of haughty independence, where he would need all his strength and all the confidence of his subjects. To conspire at such a moment against the honour and life of a miserable and innocent woman would have occurred to no one who was not a maniac. Rumour had been busy spreading stories that he was weary of Anne and meant to part with her; but a few days previously he had dissolved the Parliament which for seven years had been described as the complacent instrument of his will. He could not be equally assured of the temper of another, hastily elected, in the uneasy condition of the public mind; and, without a Parliament, he could take no action which would affect the succession. However discontented he might be with his present Queen, the dissolution of Parliament is a conclusive proof that at the time of Chapuys's visit to Greenwich he was not contemplating a matrimonial convulsion. Probably, in spite of all the stories set flowing into Chapuys's long ears by the ladies of the household, he had resolved to bear his fortune, bad as it was, and was absolutely ignorant of the revelation which was about to break upon him. Husbands are proverbially the last to know of their wives' infidelities; and the danger of bringing charges which could not be substantiated against a woman in Anne's position would necessarily keep every lip shut till the evidence could be safely brought forward. Cromwell appears to have been in possession of important information for many weeks. The exposure, however, might still have been delayed, but for the unfavourable answer of the King to the Emperor's advances, which had so much distressed the advocates of a renewal of the amity. France was now going to war, and making large offers for the English alliance. Henry, though his affection for Anne had cooled, still resented the treatment which he had received from Charles, and had a fair opportunity of revenging himself. The wisest of his Ministers were against Continental adventures, and wished him earnestly to accept the return of a friendship the loss of which had cost the country so dear. But the French faction at the court, Anne and her relations, and the hot-tempered young men who surrounded him, were still able to work upon his wounded pride. Could they plunge the country into war at the side of Francis, they would recover their ascendancy. Any day might see some fatal step taken which could not be recovered. Both Anne and Rochford were bold, able, and unscrupulous, and Cromwell, with a secret in his hand which would destroy them, saw that the time was come to use it.

That it was not accident which connected the outburst of the storm on Anne's head with the political negotiations is certain from Cromwell's own words. He told Chapuys that it was the disappointment which he had felt at the King's reply to him on the Wednesday after Easter that had led him to apply the match to the train.[1]

A casual incident came to his assistance. A Privy Councillor, whose name is not mentioned, having remarked sharply on the light behaviour of a sister who was attached to the court, the young lady admitted her offence, but said it was nothing in comparison with the conduct of the Queen, She bade her brother examine Mark Smeton, a groom of the chamber and a favourite musician.[2] The Privy Councillor related what he had heard to two friends of the King, of whom Cromwell must have been one. The case was so serious that they agreed that the King must be informed. They told him. He started, changed colour, thanked them, and directed an inquiry to be held in strict secrecy. The ladies of the bedchamber were cross-questioned. Lady Worcester[3] was "the first accuser." "Nan Cobham" and a maid gave other evidence; but "Lady Worcester was the first ground."[4]

Nothing was allowed to transpire to disturb the festivities at Greenwich. On St. George's Day, April 23, the Queen and her brother received an intimation that they were in less favour than usual. The Chapter of the Garter was held. An order was vacant; Anne asked that it should be given to Lord Rochford, and the request was refused; it was conferred on her cousin, Sir Nicholas Carew, to her great vexation. In this, however, there was nothing to alarm her. The next day, the 24th, a secret committee was appointed to receive depositions, consisting of the Chancellor, the Judges, Cromwell, and other members of Council; and by this time whispers were abroad that something was wrong, for Chapuys, writing on the 29th of April, said that "it would not be Carew's fault if Anne was not out of the saddle before long, as he had heard that he was daily conspiring against her and trying to persuade Mistress Seymour and her friends to work her ruin. Four days ago [i. e. on April 25] Carew and other gentlemen sent word to the Princess to take courage, as the King was tired of the Concubine and would not endure her long."[5] Geoffrey Pole, Reginald's brother, a loose-tongued gentleman, told Chapuys that the Bishop of London (Stokesley) had been lately asked whether the King could dismiss the Concubine; the Bishop had declined to give an opinion till the King asked for it, and even then would not speak till he knew the King's intention. The Bishop, Chapuys said, was one of the promoters of the first divorce, and was now penitent, the Concubine and all her family being accursed Lutherans.[6]

Such stories were but surmise and legend. I insert them to omit nothing which may be construed into an indication of conspiracy. The Commission meanwhile was collecting facts which grew more serious every day. On Thursday, the 27th, Sir William Brereton, a gentleman of the King's Privy Chamber, was privately sent to the Tower, and on the 30th was followed thither by the musician Smeton. The next morning, the 1st of May, High Festival was held at Greenwich. A tournament formed a part of the ceremony, with the Court in attendance. Anne sate in a gallery as Queen of the day, while her knights broke lances for her, caring nothing for flying scandal, and unsuspecting the abyss which was opening under her feet. Sir Henry Norris and Lord Rochford were in the lists as defender and challenger, when, suddenly, the King rose; the pageant was broken up in confusion; Henry mounted his horse and, followed by a small train, rode off for London, taking Norris with him. Sir Henry Norris was one of Henry's most intimate personal friends. He was his equerry, and often slept in his room or in an adjoining closet. The inquiries of the Commission had not yet implicated him as a principal, but it had appeared that circumstances were known to him which he ought to have revealed. The King promised to forgive him if he would tell the truth, but the truth was more than he could dare to reveal. On the following day he, too, was sent to the Tower, having been first examined before the Commissioners, to whom—perhaps misled by some similar hope of pardon held out to him by Sir William Fitzwilliam—he confessed more than it was possible to pardon, and then withdrew what he had acknowledged.[7] So far, Smeton only had confessed to "any actual thing," and it was thought the King's honour would be touched if the guilt of the rest was not proved more clearly.

Anne had been left at Greenwich. On the next morning she was brought before the Council there, her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, presiding. She was informed that she was charged with adultery with various persons. Her answers, such as they were, the Duke set aside as irrelevant. She complained afterwards that she had been "cruelly handled" by the Council. It was difficult not to be what she would consider cruel. She, too, was conducted up the river to the Tower, where she found that to Smeton and Brereton and Norris another gentleman of the household, Sir Francis Weston, had now been added. A small incident is mentioned which preserves a lost practice of the age. "On the evening of the day on which the Concubine was sent to the Tower, the Duke of Richmond went to his father to ask his blessing, according to the English custom. The King said, in tears, that he, and his sister the Princess, ought to thank God for having escaped the hands of that woman, who had planned to poison them."[8]

Chapuys made haste to inform the Emperor of the welcome catastrophe. The Emperor, he said, would recollect the expressions which he had reported as used by Cromwell regarding the possible separation of the King and the Concubine. Both he and the Princess had been ever since anxious that such a separation should be brought about. What they had desired had come to pass better than any one could have hoped, to the great disgrace of the Concubine, who, by the judgment of God, had been brought in full daylight from Greenwich to the Tower, in charge of the Duke of Norfolk and two chamberlains. Report said it was for continued adultery with a spinet-player belonging to her household. The player had been committed to the Tower also, and, after him, Sir H. Norris, the most familiar and private companion of the King, for not having revealed the matter.[9]

Fresh news poured in as Chapuys was writing. Before closing his despatch he was able to add that Sir Francis Weston and Lord Rochford were arrested also. The startling story flew from lip to lip, gathering volume as it went. Swift couriers carried it to Paris. Viscount Hannaert, the Imperial Ambassador there,[10] wrote to Granvelle that Anne had been surprised in bed with the King's organist.[11] In the course of the investigation, witnesses had come forward to say that nine years previously a marriage had been made and consummated between Anne and Percy, Earl of Northumberland. Percy, however, swore, and received the sacrament upon it, before the Duke of Norfolk and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, that no contract or promise of marriage of any kind had passed between them.[12] Anne's attendants in the Tower had been ordered to note what she might say. She denied that she was guilty, sometimes with hysterical passion, sometimes with a flighty levity; but not, so far as her words are recorded, with the clearness of conscious innocence. She admitted that with Norris, Weston, and Smeton she had spoken foolishly of their love for herself, and of what might happen were the King to die. Smeton, on his second examination, confessed that he had on three several occasions committed adultery with the Queen. Norris repudiated his admissions to Sir William Fitzwilliam—what they were is unknown—and offered to maintain his own innocence and the Queen's with sword and lance. Weston and Brereton persisted in absolute denial.

Meanwhile the Commission continued to take evidence. A more imposing list of men than those who composed it could not have been collected in England. The members of it were the Lord Chancellor, the Duke of Norfolk, the Duke of Suffolk, Lord Wiltshire, Anne's and Rochford's father, the Earls of Oxford, Westmoreland, and Sussex, Lord Sandys, Thomas Cromwell, Sir William Fitzwilliam, the Lord High Admiral, Sir William Paulet, Lord Treasurer, and nine judges of the courts at Westminster. Before these persons the witnesses were examined and their depositions written down. "The confessions," Cromwell wrote afterwards to Gardiner, "were so abominable that a great part of them were not given in evidence, but were clearly kept secret."[13]

The alleged offences had been committed in two counties. The Grand Juries of Kent and Middlesex returned true bills on the case presented to them. On the 7th of May writs were sent out for a new Parliament, to be chosen and to meet immediately. The particular charges had been submitted to the Grand Juries with time, place, and circumstance. The details have been related by me elsewhere.[14] In general the indictment was that for a period of more than two years, from within a few weeks after the birth of Elizabeth to the November immediately preceding, the Queen had repeatedly committed acts of adultery with Sir Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton, Sir Francis Weston, Mark Smeton, and her brother Lord Rochford. In every case the instigation and soliciting were alleged to have been on the Queen's side. The particulars were set out circumstantially, the time at which the solicitations were made, how long an interval elapsed between the solicitation and the act, and when and where the several acts were committed. Finally it was said that the Queen had promised to marry some one of these traitors whenever the King depart this life, affirming that she would never love the King in her heart.

Of all these details evidence of some kind must have been produced before the Commission, and it was to this that Cromwell referred in his letter to Gardiner. The accused gentlemen were all of them in situations of trust and confidence at the court, with easy access to the Queen's person, and, if their guilt was real, the familiarity to which they were admitted through their offices was a special aggravation of their offences.

In a court so jealous, and so divided, many eyes were on the watch and many tongues were busy. None knew who might be implicated, or how far the Queen's guilt had extended. Suspicion fell on her cousin, Sir Francis Bryan, who was sharply examined by Cromwell. Suspicion fell also on Anne's old lover, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Surrey's friend, to whom a letter survives, written on the occasion by his father, Sir Henry. The old man told his son he was sorry that he was too ill to do his duty to his King in that dangerous time when the King had suffered by false traitors. He prayed God long to give him grace, to be with him and about him that had found out the matter, and the false traitors to be punished to the example of others.[15]

Cranmer had been much attached to Anne. The Catholic party being so bitter against her, she had made herself the patroness of the Protestant preachers, and had protected them against persecution. The Archbishop had regarded her as an instrument of Providence, and when the news reached him of the arrest and the occasion of it he was thunderstruck. He wrote an anxious and beautiful letter to the King, expressing a warm belief and hope that the Queen would be able to clear herself. Before he could send it he was invited to meet the Council in the Star Chamber. On his return he added a postscript that he was very sorry such faults could be proved by the Queen as he heard of their relation.[16]

On Friday, the 12th of May, the four commoners were brought up for trial. The Court sat in Westminster Hall, Lord Wiltshire being on the bench with the rest. Their guilt, if proved, of course involved the guilt of his daughter. The prisoners were brought to the bar and the indictment was read. Smeton pleaded guilty of adultery, but not guilty of the inferential charge of compassing the death of the King. The other three held to their denial. Weston was married. His mother and his young wife appeared in court, "oppressed with grief," to petition for him, offering "rents and goods" for his deliverance;[17] but it could not avail. The jury found against them all, and they were sentenced to die. Two letters to Lord and Lady Lisle from a friend in London convey something of the popular feeling.

"John Husee to Lady Lisle.

May 13.

"Madam, I think verily if all the books and chronicles were totally revolved and to the uttermost persecuted and tried, which against women hath been penned, contrived, and written since Adam and Eve, those same were, I think, verily nothing in comparison of that which hath been done and committed by Anne the Queen, which though I presume be not all things as it is now rumoured, yet that which hath been by her confessed, and other offenders with her, by her own alluring, procurement, and instigation, is so abominable and detestable, that I am ashamed that any good woman should give ear thereunto. I pray God give her grace to repent while she now liveth. I think not the contrary but she and all they shall suffer."[18]

"To Lord Lisle.

Same date.

"Here are so many tales I cannot tell what to write. Some say young Weston shall scape, and some that none shall die but the Queen and her brother; others, that Wyatt and Mr. Page are as like to suffer as the rest. If any escape, it will be young Weston, for whom importunate suit is made."

Great interest was felt in Sir F. Weston. The appearance of his wife and mother in court had created general compassion for him. He was young, rich, accomplished. He was well known in Paris, had been much liked there. M. d'Intevelle, who had been his friend, hurried over to save him, and the Bishop of Tarbes, the resident Ambassador, earnestly interceded. Money, if money could be of use, was ready to be lavished. But like Norris, Weston had been distinguished by Henry with peculiar favour; and if he had betrayed the confidence that was placed in him he had nothing to plead which would entitle him to special mercy. A letter has been preserved, written by Weston to his family after his sentence, inclosing an inventory of his debts, which he desired might be paid. If any one can believe, after reading it, that the writer was about to die for a crime of which he knew that he was innocent, I shall not attempt to reason with such a person.

"Father, mother, and wife,

"I shall humbly desire you, for the salvation of my soul, to discharge me of this bill, and forgive me all the offences that I have done unto you, and in especial to my wife, which I desire for the love of God to forgive me and to pray for me; for I believe prayer will do me good. God's blessing have my children and mine.::::"By me, a great offender to God."[19]

On Sunday the 14th a report of the proceedings up to that moment was sent by Cromwell to Sir John Wallop and Gardiner at Paris. The story, he said, was now notorious to every one, but he must inform them further how the truth had been discovered and how the King had proceeded. The Queen's incontinent living was so rank and common that the ladies of the Privy Chamber could not conceal it. It came to the ears of some of the Council, who told his Majesty, though with great fear, as the case enforced. Certain persons of the household and others who had been about the Queen's person were examined; and the matter appeared so evident that, besides the crime, there brake out a certain conspiracy of the King's death, which extended so far that they that had the examination of it quaked at the danger his Grace was in, and on their knees gave God laud and praise that he had preserved him so long from it. Certain men were committed to the Tower, Mark and Norris, and the Queen's brother. Then she herself was apprehended; after her, Sir Francis Weston and Brereton. Norris, Weston, Brereton, and Mark were already condemned to death, having been arraigned at Westminster on the past Friday. The queen and her brother were to be arraigned the next day. He wrote no particulars. The things were so abominable that the like was never heard.[20]

Anne Boleyn was already condemned by implication. The guilt of her paramours was her own. She herself was next brought to the bar, with her brother, to be tried by the Peers. The court was held at the Tower. Norfolk presided as High Steward. Lord Wiltshire was willing to sit, but the tragedy was terrible enough without further aggravation, and the world was spared the spectacle of a father taking part in the conviction of his own children on a charge so hideous. The Earl of Northumberland did sit, though ill from anxiety and agitation. Twenty-five other Peers took their places also.

The account of the proceedings is preserved in outline in the official record; a further detailed description was furnished by Chapuys to the Emperor, containing new and curious particulars.

On Monday the 15th of May, Chapuys wrote, the Concubine and her brother were condemned for treason by the principal nobles of England. The Duke of Norfolk passed sentence, and Chapuys was told that the Earl of Wiltshire was ready to assist at the trial, as he had done at that of the rest. The putaine and her brother were not taken to Westminster, as the others had been, but were brought to the bar at the Tower. No secret was made of it, however, for over two thousand persons were present. The principal charge against her was that she had cohabited with her brother and the other accomplices, that a promise had passed between her and Norris that she would marry him after the King's decease—a proof that they had desired his death; that she had exchanged medals with Norris, implying that they were leagued together; that she had poisoned the late Queen, and intended to poison the Princess.[21] To most of these charges she returned an absolute denial; others she answered plausibly, but confessed having given money to Weston and to other gentlemen. She was likewise charged, and the brother also, with having ridiculed the King, showing in many ways she had no love for him, and was tired of her life with him. The brother was accused of having had connection with his sister. No proof of his guilt was produced, except that of having been once alone with her for many hours, and other small follies. He replied so well that many who were present were betting two to one he would be acquitted.

Another charge against him was that the Concubine had told his wife that the King was unequal to his duties.[22] This was not read out in court; it was given to Rochford in writing, with a direction not to make it public, but to say merely yes or no. To the great annoyance of Cromwell and others, who did not wish suspicions to be created which might prejudice the King's issue, Rochford read it aloud.[23]

He was accused also of having used words implying a doubt whether Anne's daughter was the King's, to which he made no answer.

The brother and sister were tried separately and did not see each other. The Concubine was sentenced to be burnt alive or beheaded, at the King's pleasure. When she heard her fate she received it calmly, saying that she was ready to die, but was sorry that others who were innocent and loyal should suffer on her account. She begged for a short respite, to dispose her conscience. The brother said that, since die he must, he would no longer plead "not guilty," but would confess that he deserved death, and requested only that his debts might be paid out of his property.[24]

Two days after the trial of the Queen and Rochford, the five gentlemen suffered on Tower Hill. The Concubine, wrote Chapuys, saw them executed from the windows of the Tower, to enhance her misery. The Lord Rochford declared himself innocent of everything with which he was charged, although he confessed that he had deserved death for having contaminated himself with the new sects of religion, and for having infected many others. For this he said that God had justly punished him. He prayed all the world to keep clear of heresy, and his words would cause the recovery and conversion of innumerable souls.[25] This is a good instance of Chapuys's manner, and is a warning against an easy acceptance of his various stories. It is false that Rochford declared himself innocent of the adultery. It is false that he said that he deserved death for heresy. He said nothing—not a word—about heresy. What he did say is correctly given in Wriothesley's Chronicle, which confirms the report sent from London to the Regent of the Netherlands.[26] The Spanish writer says that his address was "muy bien Catolica," but it will be seen that he carefully avoided a denial of the crime for which he suffered.

"Masters all, I am come hither not to preach a sermon, but to die, as the law hath found me, and to the law I submit me, desiring you all, and specially my masters of the Court, that you will trust in God specially, and not in the vanities of the world; for if I had so done I think I had been alive as ye be now. Also I desire you to help to the setting forth of the true Word of God; I have been diligent to read it and set it forth truly; but if I had been as diligent to observe it and done and lived thereafter as I was to read it and set it forth, I had not come hereto. Wherefore I beseech you all to be workers and live thereafter, and not to read it and live not thereafter. As for my offences, it cannot avail you to hear them that I die here for; but I beseech God that I may be an example to you all, and that all you may beware by me, and heartily I require you all to pray for me and to forgive me if I have offended you, and I forgive you all, and God save the king."[27]

Of the other four, Smeton and Brereton admitted the justice of their sentence, Brereton adding that, if he had to die a thousand deaths, he deserved them all. Norris was almost silent. Weston lamented in general terms the wickedness of his past life. From not one of the five came the indignant repudiation of a false accusation which might have been surely looked for from innocent men, and especially to be looked for when the Queen's honour was compromised along with theirs.

A Protestant spectator of the execution, a follower of Sir H. Norris, and a friend and schoolfellow of Brereton, said that at first he and all other friends of the Gospel had been unable to believe that the Queen had behaved so abominably. "As he might be saved before God, he could not believe it, till he heard them speak at their death; but in a manner all confessed but Mr. Norris, who said almost nothing at all."[28]

Dying men hesitate to leave the world with a lie on their lips. It appears to me, therefore, that these five gentlemen did not deny their guilt, because they knew that they were guilty. The unfortunate Anne was still alive; and while there was life there was hope. A direct confession on their part would have been a confession for her as well as themselves, and they did not make it; but, if they were really innocent, that they should have suffered as they did without an effort to clear themselves or her is one more inexplicable mystery in this extraordinary story.

Something even more strange was to follow.

At her trial Anne had been "unmoved as a stone, and had carried herself as if she was receiving some great honour." She had been allowed a chair, and had bowed to the Peers as she took her seat. She said little, "but her face spoke more than words, and no one to look on her would have thought her guilty." "She protested that she had not misconducted herself." When Norfolk delivered sentence her face did not change. She said merely that she would not dispute the judgment, but appealed to God.[29] Smeton had repeated his own confession on the scaffold. She turned pale when she was told of it. "Did he not acquit me of the infamy he has laid on me?" she said. "Alas, I fear his soul will suffer for it!"[30]

But she had asked for time to prepare her conscience and for spiritual help; she called herself a Lutheran, and on the Tuesday, the day after her trial, Cranmer went to the Tower to hear her confession. She then told the Archbishop something which, if true, invalidated her marriage with the King; if she had not been his wife, her intrigues were not technically treason, and Cranmer perhaps gave her hope that this confession might save her, for she said afterwards to Sir William Kingston that she expected to be spared and would retire into a nunnery.[31] The confession, whatever it might be, was produced on the following day by the Archbishop sitting judicially at Lambeth,[32] and was there considered by three ecclesiastical lawyers, who gave as their opinion that she had never been the King's lawful wife, and this opinion was confirmed by the Chancellor, the Duke of Suffolk, the Earl of Oxford, and a committee of bishops. The confession itself belonged to the secrets which Cromwell described as "too abominable to be made known," and was never published. The judgment of the Archbishop itself was ratified on the 28th of June by the two Houses of Convocation. It was laid before Parliament and was made the basis of a new arrangement of the succession. But the Statute merely says "that God, from whom no secret things could be hid, had caused to be brought to light evident and open knowledge of certain impediments unknown at the making of the previous Act, and since that time confessed by the Lady Anne before the Archbishop of Canterbury, sitting judicially for the same, whereby it appeared that the marriage was never good nor consonant to the laws."

Conjecture was, of course, busy over so singular a mystery. Some said that the Archbishop had declared Elizabeth to have been Norris's bastard, and not the daughter of the King. Others revived the story of Henry's supposed intrigue with Anne's sister, Mary, and Chapuys added a story which even he did not affect to believe, agreeable as it must have been to him. "Many think," he said, "that the Concubine had become so audacious in vice, because most of the new bishops had persuaded her that she need not go to confession; and that, according to the new sect, it was lawful to seek aid elsewhere, even from her own relations, when her husband was not able to satisfy her."[33] The Wriothesley Chronicle says positively that, on the 17th of May, in the afternoon, at a solemn court kept at Lambeth by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the doctors of the law, the King was divorced from his wife, Queen Anne; and there at the same court was a privy contract approved that she had made to the Earl of Northumberland, afore the King's time, and so she was discharged, and was never lawful Queen of England.[34]

There are difficulties in accepting either of these conjectures. Chapuys, like Dr. Lingard after him, decided naturally for the hypothesis most disgraceful to the King. The Mary Boleyn story, authoritatively confirmed, at once covered Henry's divorce process with shame, and established the superior claim of Mary to the succession.[35] But in the Act of Parliament the cause is described as something unknown in 1533, when the first Statute was passed: and the alleged intrigue had then been the common subject of talk in Catholic circles and among the Opposition members of Parliament. The Act says that the cause was a fact confessed by the Lady Anne. The Lady Anne might confess her own sins, but her confession of the sins of others was not a confession at all, and could have carried no validity unless supported by other evidence. Chapuys's assertion requires us to suppose that Henry, being informed of Anne's allegation, consented to the establishment of his own disgrace by making it the subject of a legal investigation; that he thus himself allowed a crime to be substantiated against him which covered him with infamy, and which no other attempt was ever made to prove. How did Chapuys know that this was the cause of the divorce of Anne? If it was communicated to Parliament, it must have become the common property of the realm, and have been no longer open to question. If it was not communicated, but was accepted by Parliament, itself on the authority of the Council, who were Chapuys's informants, and how did they know? Under Chapuys's hypothesis the conduct of King, Council, Parliament, and Convocation becomes gratuitous folly—folly to which there was no temptation and for which there was no necessity. The King had only to deny the truth of the story, and nothing further would have been made of it. The real evidence for the liaison with Mary Boleyn is the ineradicable conviction of a certain class of minds that the most probable interpretation of every act of Henry is that which most combines stupidity and wickedness. To argue such a matter is useless. Those who believe without reason cannot be convinced by reason.

The Northumberland explanation is less improbable, but to this also there are many objections. Northumberland himself had denied on oath, a few days before, that any contract had ever passed between Anne and himself. If he was found to have perjured himself, he would have been punished, or, at least, disgraced; yet, a few months later, in the Pilgrimage of Grace, he had the King's confidence, and deserved it by signal loyalty. The Norris story is the least unlikely. The first act of criminality with Anne mentioned in the indictment was stated to have been committed with Norris four weeks after the birth of Elizabeth, and the intimacy may have been earlier; while the mystery observed about it may be better accounted for, since, if it had been avowed, Elizabeth's recognition as the King's daughter would have made ever after impossible, and the King did believe that she was really his own daughter.

But here, again, there is no evidence. The explanation likeliest of all is that it was something different from each of these—one of the confessions which had been kept back as "too abominable." It is idle to speculate on the antecedents of such a woman as Anne Boleyn.

If she had expected that her confession would save her, she was mistaken. To marry a king after a previous unacknowledged intrigue was in those days constructive treason, since it tainted the blood royal.[36] The tragedy was wound up on Friday, the 19th of May; the scene was the green in front of the Tower. Foreigners were not admitted, but the London citizens had collected in great numbers, and the scaffold had been built high that everyone might see. The Chancellor, the Duke of Suffolk, the young Duke of Richmond—then himself sick to death—Cromwell, and other members of the Council, were present by the King's order. Throughout the previous day Anne had persisted in declaring her innocence. In the evening she had been hysterical, had talked and made jokes. The people would call her "Queen Anne sans tête," she said, and "laughed heartily." In the morning at nine o'clock she was led out by Sir William Kingston, followed by four of her ladies. She looked often over her shoulder, and on the fatal platform was much "amazed and exhausted."

When the time came for her to speak, she raised her eyes to heaven and said, "Masters, I submit me to the law, as the law has judged me, and as for my offences, I accuse no man. God knoweth them. I remit them to God, beseeching him to have mercy on my soul. I beseech Jesu save my sovereign and master, the King, the most godly, noble, and gentle Prince there is."[37] She then laid her head on the block and so ended; she, too, dying without at the last denying the crime for which she suffered. Of the six who were executed not one made a protestation of innocence. If innocent they were, no similar instance Can be found in the history of mankind.

  1. "Et que a luy avoit este l'auctorite de descouvrir et parachever les affairs de la dicte Concubine, en quoy il avoit eu une merveilleuse pene; et que sur le desplesir et courroux qu'il avoit eu sur le reponse que le Roy son maistre m'avoit donné le tiers jour de Pasques il se mit a fantasier et conspirer le dict affaire," etc. Chapuys to Charles V., June 6, 1536.—MS. Vienna; Spanish Calendar, vol. v. part 2, p. 137. From the word "conspirer" it has been inferred that the accusation of Anne and her accomplices was a conspiracy of Cromwell's, got up in haste for an immediate political purpose. Cromwell must have been marvellously rapid, since within four days he was able to produce a case to lay before a Special Commission composed of the highest persons in the realm assisted by the Judges, involving the Queen and a still powerful faction at the court. We are to believe, too, that he had the inconceivable folly to acknowledge it to Chapuys, the most dangerous person to whom such a secret could be communicated. Cromwell was not an idiot, and it is impossible that in so short a time such an accumulation of evidence could have been invented and prepared so skilfully as to deceive the Judges.
  2. Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, June 2, vol. x. p. 428.
  3. Daughter of Sir Anthony Brown, Master of the Horse.
  4. John Husee to Lady Lisle, May 24, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and, Domestic, vol. x. p. 397.
  5. Chapuys to Charles V., April 29.—Spanish Calendar, p. 105.
  6. Ibid.
  7. History of England, vol. ii. p. 454.
  8. Chapuys to Charles V., May 19, 1536.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. part 2, p. 125.
  9. Chapuys to Charles V., May 2, 1536.—MSS. Vienna; Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. p. 330; Spanish Calendar, vol. v. part 2, p. 107.
  10. In transcribing the MS. twenty years ago at Vienna I mistook the name for Howard, which it much resembled in the handwriting of the time. I am reminded correctly that there was no Viscount Howard in the English Peerage.
  11. "Le Visconte Hannaert a escript au Sr de Granvelle que au mesme instant il avoit entendu de bon lieu que la concubine du diet Roy avoit esté surprise couchée avec l'organiste du dict Roy."
  12. The Earl of Northumberland to Cromwell, May 13, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol, x. p. 356.
  13. Cromwell to Gardiner, July 5, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. xi. p. 17.
  14. History of England, vol. ii. p. 470.
  15. Sir Henry Wyatt to Thomas Wyatt, May 7, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. p. 345. "Him" refers to Cromwell.
  16. History of England, vol. ii. pp. 459–462.
  17. Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. p. 430.
  18. Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. p. 357.
  19. Autograph letter of Sir Francis Weston, May 3, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. p. 358.
  20. Cromwell to Wallop and Gardiner, May 14, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. p. 359.
  21. "Qu'elle avoit faict empoissoner la feue Royne et machyné de faire de mesme à la Princesse." Chapuys was not present, but was writing from report, and was not always trustworthy. No trace is found of these accusations in the Record, but they may have been mentioned in the pleadings.
  22. "Que le Roy n'estoit habille en cas de copuler avec femme, et qu'il n'avoit ni vertu ni puissance." Historians, to make their narrative coherent, assume an intimate acquaintance with the motives for each man's or woman's actions. Facts may be difficult to ascertain, but motives, which cannot be ascertained at all unless when acknowledged, they are able to discern by intuition. They have satisfied themselves that the charges against Anne Boleyn were invented because the King wished to marry Jane Seymour. I pretend to no intuition myself. I do not profess to be wise beyond what I find written. In this instance I hazard a conjecture—a conjecture merely—which occurred to me long ago as an explanation of some of the disasters of Henry's marriages, and which the words, alleged to have been used by Anne to Lady Rochford, tend, pro tanto, to confirm.

    Henry was already showing signs of the disorder which eventually killed him. Infirmities in his constitution made it doubtful, both to others and to himself, whether healthy children, or any children at all, would in future be born to him. It is possible—I do not say more—that Anne, feeling that her own precarious position could only be made secure if she became the mother of a prince, had turned for assistance in despair at her disappointments to the gentlemen by whom she was surrounded. As an hypothesis, this is less intolerable than to suppose her another Messalina. In every instance of alleged offence the solicitation is said to have proceeded from herself, and to have been only yielded to after an interval of time.

  23. "Au grand despit de Cromwell et d'aucungs autres qui ne vouldroient en cest endroit s'engendroit suspicion qui pourroit prejudiquer a la lignée que le dict Roy pretend avoir.'—MSS. Vienna
  24. Chapuys to Charles V., May 19, 1536.—MSS. Vienna; Spanish Calendar, vol. v. part 2, pp. 122 et seq. In one or two instances my translation will be found to differ slightly from that of Sr Gayangas.
  25. Chapuys to Charles V., May 19.—Spanish Calendar, vol. v. part 2, p. 128.
  26. History of England, vol. ii. p. 483.
  27. Wriothesley's Chronicle (Camden Society's Publications), vol. i. p. 39.
  28. Constantine's Memorial.—Archæologia, vol. xxiii. pp. 63–66.
  29. Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, June 2, vol. x. p. 430.
  30. Ibid. p. 431.
  31. Kingston to Cromwell, May 16, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. p. 371.
  32. 28 Hen. VIII. cap. 7.
  33. Chapuys to Granvelle, May 19, 1536.—Calendar, Foreign and Domestic, vol. x. p. 380.
  34. Wriothesley's Chronicle, vol. i. pp. 40, 41.
  35. Chapuys's words are worth preserving. He was mistaken in his account of the Statute. It did not declare Mary legitimate, and it left Henry power to name his own successor should his marriage with Jane Seymour prove unfruitful. So great an error shows the looseness with which he welcomed any story which fell in with his wishes. He says: "Le statut declairant la Princesse legitime heretiere, la fille de la Concubine, a esté revoqué, et elle declairé bastarde, non point eomme fille de M. Norris, comme se pouvoit plus honnestement dire, mais pour avoir esté la marriage entre la dicte Concubine et le dict Roy illegitime à cause qu'il avoit cogneu charnellement la sœur de la dicte Concubine: pour laquelle cause l'Archevesque de Canterburi, ung ou deux jours avant que la dicte Concubine fut executée, donna et prefera la sentence de divorce, de quoy, comme sçavez trop mieulx, n'estoit grand besoign, puisque l'epée et la mort les auroit prochainement et absolument divorcés: et puisque aussy le vouloient faire, le pretext eust esté plus honneste d'alleguer qu'elle avoit este mairée à aultre encores vivant. Mais Dieu a voulu descouvrir plus grande abomination, qui est plus que inexcusable actendu qu'il ne peut alleguer ignorance neque juris neque faeti. Dieu veuille que telle soit la fin de toutes ses folies!" Chapuys à Granvelle, July 8, 1536.-MS. Vienna.
  36. This was distinctly laid down in the case of Catherine Howard.
  37. Wriothesley's Chronicle, pp. 41, 42.