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.
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