Thomas Cromwell and the Downfall of Anne Boleyn

Chapter 5 : Trial and Conviction

Great lawyer that he was, Cromwell ensured that there would only be one outcome from Anne’s trial. He arranged for all of the evidence to be read out to the crowded courtroom in order to secure maximum impact. Her crime, said her accusers, was not just adultery, but incest and perversion. Driven by her ‘frail and carnal lust’, she had kissed her brother by ‘inserting her tongue in his mouth, and he in hers’, and had incited others in her entourage to yield to her ‘vile provocations.’ So crazed was she with lust, that she had taken Henry Norris to her bed just six weeks after giving birth to Elizabeth.

As the details of her supposed crimes grew ever more explicit, Anne remained impassive. When the time came for her to speak, however, she gave ‘so wise and discreet aunswers to all thinges layde against her’ and calmly refuted all of the charges. But it was to no avail. The jury knew what was expected of them, and they did not disappoint. Anne was convicted of high treason and sentenced to death. When she was escorted back to her rooms in the Tower, her courage gave way to hysteria. She told Sir William Kingston: ‘I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck’, before putting her hands around it and ‘laughing heartily’.

The sentence was carried out at the Tower on 19 May. Henry had shown enough mercy towards his estranged wife to send for an expert executioner from Calais so that she might be swiftly beheaded. Anne conducted herself with great dignity throughout, winning great respect from the crowds that had gathered to witness the final moments of the ‘Great Whore’. Cromwell himself was among them.

The chief minister was quick to consolidate this victory by allying himself and his family closely to the new Queen, Jane Seymour, whom Henry married with unseemly haste after Anne’s execution. Cromwell arranged an extremely prestigious marriage for his son Gregory to the queen’s sister, Elizabeth. This gave Cromwell – the blacksmith’s boy from Putney - kinship with the King of England himself.