14th-15th May: The Beginning of the End

Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn from the BBC documentary
Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn from the BBC documentary “The Last Days of Anne Boleyn” and Showtime’s “The Tudors”.

On the 14th of May 1536, Henry declared his marriage to Anne Boleyn null and void which meant that she could no longer be accused of adultery since she had never been Henry’s wife. But this was Henry VIII. He wanted Anne gone, and it didn’t matter what legal mumbo-jumbo his muscle team had to conjure to get it done. There was also another reason why he wanted Anne done away with. He didn’t want another repeat of Katherine of Aragon. Katherine of Aragon as everyone knows was the wife he couldn’t divorce and annul his marriage to, from the Catholic Church’s perspective. And through that perspective, he was never legally married to Anne because Katherine was still alive, making his union with Anne invalid and their daughter a bastard. If he was to get a son from Jane Seymour, he had to make sure that there was no dispute (whatsoever) of his legitimacy. Therefore, the easiest solution as the priest tells you at the altar, “until death do us part”, was to kill Anne. But Henry was no murdered, he was a gallant chevalier who took after King Arthur. In his view, as Leanda de Lisle has argued, he was a man who was the purveyor of justice and the perfect embodiment of chivalry. Anne Boleyn as well as her alleged lovers’ executions had to come through legal means, and her execution (by a sword) was yet another representation of his chivalric ideals.

The day after her marriage was declared null and void, the trial against her and brother began.

“Her brother defied the charges and daringly read out the note he had been requested to keep secret, that Anne and Jane Parker had allegedly discussed the King’s inability in the bedroom, claiming he lacked ‘vertu’ and ‘puissance’, or ability and power.” –Licence

Although he never said that he agreed with what was written or that he believed the note was genuinely theirs, the simple fact that he had defied the order not to read it, was considered treasonous and a mockery against the King.

Anne Boleyn on trial played by Genevive Bujold in the movie
Anne Boleyn on trial played by Genevive Bujold in the movie “Anne of a Thousand Days”.

According to the Tudor chronicler Wriothesley, Anne composed herself during the trial and made “answers to all things laid against her, excusing herself with her words so clearly, as though she had never been fault of the same”. As for George, he also knew that he wasn’t going to get out of this alive. He had shadowed his father and uncle for many years, impressed the Imperial Ambassador for his brilliance and courteous behavior towards him; he had seen much of the two of the greatest courts in Europe, and with his sister being Queen, he had been a witness to many key events. He was realistic, pragmatic. And from the moment he had been arrested, he was aware that no one was going to get out of this alive or without their reputations dragged through the mud. Wriothesley added that he spoke “so prudently and wisely to all articles laid against him, that marvel it was to hear, and never would confess to anything but made himself as clear as though he had never offended.” Others were of the same opinion, including the Imperial Ambassador who wrote back to his master, telling him that the charges were so ridiculous that he was astonished that they were being taken seriously.

“No proof of George’s guilt was produced except that of his having once passed many hours in her company, and other little follies.” –Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador

As for Anne, once again ignoring the legal obvious that she could not be charged with something, since she had never been legally married to the King, according to the King himself; she was charged with twenty acts of adultery, three which were incest with her brother George and she was found guilty. The verdict was read aloud by none other than her first romantic interest, Henry Percy, who collapsed afterwards and had to be dragged out from the room for fear that he would get worse.


Anne’s fate was officially sealed. Anne would die four days later on May 19th, the other men -including her brother- two days before that.


  • Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys by Lauren Mackay
  • Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • George Boleyn, Poet, Courtier, Diplomat by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

The Imperial Ambassador meets Queen Anne for the First Time

Anne Boleyn with gable hood (left) and Eustace Chapuys (right).
Anne Boleyn with gable hood (left) and Eustace Chapuys (right).

On the 18th of April 1536, Eustace Chapuys met with Anne Boleyn. The two had never met in the seven years he had spent in England. His reports speak truth of this, as he had been mostly informed of her comings and goings from her servants, his friends and of course, his spies. This was the first time the two saw each other face to face. To most historians the meaning behind this is clear: Henry was making a statement that regardless of the rumors Eustace and other ambassadors had heard; his relationship with Anne was as strong as ever and therefore he had to acknowledge her as his lawful Queen and Consort. Eustace reaffirms this in his dispatches.

“I was conducted to the Chapel by Lord Rochfort, the Concubine’s brother, and when the offering came a great many people flocked round the King, out of curiosity, and wishing no doubt to know what sort of a mien the Concubine and I should put on.”

On their way to the altar, the King and Queen passed the Ambassador and he had no “choice but to bow in return.” This has been the school of thought for many years, but some believe that he had not been tricked at all, and that he was already expecting it since the King began to insist, months prior, that he showed respect to Anne. Historian Lauren Mackay is one of the few who believes the latter. In her book “Inside the Tudor Court”, she writes that the Savoyard behaved with complete decorum, adding that he “did not dwell on the incident” and that it is “entirely possible that Chapuys was deliberately downplaying the situation.”

Anne Boleyn Hever Classic

There is another reason for this event which argues that it was Anne who desperately wanted to meet the Ambassador, regardless of his negative opinion of her. She knew she was in deep trouble. The end was coming, she could feel it. She had been lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon and Henry had left her for Anne with the primary intention to beget a male heir. Now his eyes had once again began to wander. And this other lady also refused his gifts, which made Henry’s interest in her stronger and as with Anne, he believed that she could succeed where Anne couldn’t. I am talking of course of Jane Seymour. If Henry had gotten rid of his first wife because her only crime had been was *“failing to give Henry a son”; what was to stop him from divorcing Anne?
It was clear that Anne needed validation from the other courts if she wanted to survive, and keep her position and her daughter’s inheritance intact. Later that month, Chapuys had been told that Anne had been upset because he had rejected her invitation to dine with her and Henry. She had even gone as far as to “abuse the French Ambassador” writes Mackay, so she could win the Emperor’s favor.

When Eustace Chapuys saw Anne, he bowed to her. In turn, she acknowledged his presence and gave him a nod.

This did little for Anne in the long run.  As Eustace and the others realized that her days were numbered, they began to refuse her invitations and grew bolder in their verbal attacks.


  • Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys by Lauren Mackay
  • 1536 by Suzannah Lipscomb *
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Anne Boleyn Collection by Claire Ridgway
  • Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn: The Lovers who changed History (BBC Documentary) presented by Suzannah Lipscomb


Anthony Brophy in the role of the Savoyard, Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys in "The Tudors"
Anthony Brophy in the role of the Savoyard, Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys in “The Tudors”.

On 21 January 1556, Eustace Chapuys died at Louvain. Leaving no immediate heirs (his illegitimate son died in 1549) he left everything to his nieces and nephews. Before he died, he bought many properties in his home-town, Annency, which he supervised for the construction of new colleges and a grammar school for the under-privilege boys. He also constructed another college in Louvain (that was also aimed towards the under-privilege youth of that town).

Although the Savoyard was no longer the Imperial Ambassador, he still counseled the Emperor and his successor (Van der Defelt) in important matters of state, and still saw to Mary’s welfare. In 1547, after the death of King Henry, he counseled them on how to approach the new Protectorate (which had been established for the young King, under the leadership of Edward Seymour) with the intended betrothal between the Lady Mary and Dom Luis of Portugal. Although this betrothal never came to be, Eustace was its ardent defender and he often gave Defelt advice on other matters.

In fiction as in history, he has been miscast as a bigot, a product of a misogynist era that produced some of the infamous fanatics from that era. But as attractive as this view is, it is very erroneous. The era was misogynist, but Eustace Chapuys was no fanatic. He often criticized the church and many of his colleagues for their blatant blindness towards their fault. Although he swore to serve the Emperor’s interests, it soon became clear that his affection towards Katherine and her daughter interfered with his master’s interests. In the late 1520s when Katherine was becoming more desperate to prevent an annulment; she and Chapuys agreed to blame the Pope for his slow action. She wrote an angry letter to the Pope in which she blamed him for her current situation, and added that if he did not threaten Henry with excommunication or declared in her favor, then Henry would do the unthinkable. Chapuys himself wrote to the Emperor as well, telling him that His Holiness was proving very ineffectual.
Although he came to hate Anne in the end, he admired her, and lamented her death. When he heard about her arrest –and the arrest of her alleged lovers- he scoffed at the charges and wrote that she, and all the men who died before her, were innocent.

Anne Boleyn

“No one ever showed more courage or greater readiness to meet death than she did, having, as the report goes, begged and solicited those under whose keeping she was to hasten the execution … May God permit that this is his [Henry’s] last folly.”

He was also very fair to most of his following wives. On Katherine Howard, he emphasized on her charity, and her various petitions to the King, for mercy for Wallop, Margaret Pole and her family, and finally for Thomas Wyatt.

“The Queen took occasion and courage to beg and entreat the King for the release of Master Wyatt a prisoner of the Tower, which petition the King granted, though on rather hard conditions. The first of them being that the said Wyatt should confess the guilt for which he had been arrested; and secondly, that he was to resume conjugal relations with his wife, from whom he had been separated for upwards of fifteen years.”

On Katherine Parr, Henry’s sixth and final consort, he wrote even more favorably, pointing out her generosity, her friendship with the Princess Mary, and, as Mackay notices in her biography of Chapuys, her love for her stepchildren from her previous marriage.

“Chapuys did not consider Katherine’s lack of children to be an impediment; on the contrary he was thrilled that she had taken to her stepchildren, and could report that Mary and the new Queen got on extremely well. If Mary was happy, so too was her devoted ambassador.” (Mackay)
“Chapuys did not consider Katherine’s lack of children to be an impediment; on the contrary he was thrilled that she had taken to her stepchildren, and could report that Mary and the new Queen got on extremely well. If Mary was happy, so too was her devoted ambassador.” (Mackay)

“The King continues to treat the Princess kindly, and has made her stay with his new Queen, who behaves affectionately towards her. As to Anne Boleyn’s daughter, the King has sent her back again to stay with the prince his son.”

She was, without a doubt, the Consort Chapuys approved the most after his first, Katherine of Aragon. Before he left England, she and Mary and her ladies surprised him, and he told her that he was grateful for everything she had done for her, and in one of his dispatches added that there was no woman worthier in England to be Queen.

“She therefore begged me affectionately, after I had presented to Your Majesty her humble service, to express explicitly to you all I had learned here of the good wishes of the King towards you; and likewise to use my best influence in favor of the maintenance and increase of the existing friendship. She asked me very minutely, and most graciously, after Your Majesty’s health and expressed great joy to learn of Your Majesty’s amelioration, adding many courteous and kind expressions.”

His last conversation with the Lady Mary was brief, and the two could not say much given his agonizing state, and that he was leaving soon.


“My conversation with the Princess was confined to my assurance of Your Majesty’s good wishes towards her, and her humble thanks for the same. In default of power to repay your Majesty in any other way, she said she was bound to pray constantly to God for Your Majesty’s health and prosperity.”

Among his many friends was the alchemist Agrippa, the radical Erasmus. Although his views towards Anne turned hostile after Katherine of Aragon’s death, he wrote favorably of her immediately family. They (Lord Wiltshire and Rochford) were the first ones to receive him on his arrival, and he watched George’s career with interest. His personal views however, have been distorted as have many historical figures during this period nowadays. He was a scholar, Humanist and someone who really came to care for Katherine and Mary, and became Mary’s steadfast supporter and friend. His contributions to his hometown and Louvain should also be noted. After he died, he was buried in the chapel of the college he had built in Louvain, leaving much of his fortune to his family and the schools he built. The chapel no longer exist, but the colleges still do and they continue to educate many young people.