Tudor and Stuard: Assess the condemnation of Anne Boleyn

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The 16th century was marked by the public beheading of Anne Boleyn at the London Towers. She was the first queen who got beheaded publicly in the history of England. She was the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn the Duke of Norfolk born around 1501 and 1509. Her experience in the English court began in 1522 when she was summoned to serve as a lady to King Henry’s first wife. It is hypothesized that Anne’s beheading was a conspiracy by King Henry and his secretary of state Cromwell to get rid of her due to her inability to produce a male heir and her brilliance and intelligence, which threatened them. Therefore, this research paper seeks to assess the condemnation of Anne Boleyn by determining the reasons behind her beheading and the implications of her downfall both political and religious.

Reasons behind Anne’s Beheading

Despite King Henry’s pursuit, Anne declined to become his mistress. This forced the king to seek for the termination of his marriage to Queen Catherine. However, it was evident that the pope, Clement VII, would not allow the divorce since it was seen to weaken the Catholic Church. King Henry; therefore, decided to make Anne the “Marquessate of Pembroke.” Anne Boleyn became England’s Queen between 1533 and 1536 after King Henry VIII’s divorce to Queen Catherine was granted by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. This act led to the excommunication of the Archbishop, Cranmer and King Henry, which in turn broke the relationship between the Catholic Church in England and Rome. After the excommunication, the England Catholic Church became under the King Henry VIII’s control and he crowned Anne as the Queen of England. Henry’s disappointments and the fall of Queen Anne began when she failed to deliver a son. This was further exacerbated by her subsequent miscarriages, which led King Henry to start courting Jane Seymour. This disappointment marked the beginning of her downfall, which would later lead to her execution by beheading.

According to Pavlac, the allegations against Anne Boleyn were concocted by King Henry as a way to get rid of her and allow him to marry Jane, as she had disappointedly failed to provide him with a male heir. Henry had Anne arrested on 2nd May 1536 after taking Jane Seymour as his mistress. He then imposed several charges against her including; accusations of witchcraft, adultery, and incest with her brother. Various historians argue that Anne Boleyn was executed by King Henry because she failed to produce a male heir. 

 The accusations of witchcraft against Anne were unfair since there was no tangible evidence of her bewitching anybody. The King claimed that his falling in love with Anne was as a result of witchcraft used on him. He further proclaimed his fears against the possibility of Anne harming him by poisoning. Also, various enemies associated some of her deformities to witchcraft. For instance, her tall height, growths on her body, her extra fingernail alleged to be an additional finger, and her strange warts were all identified as teats of witchcraft by her enemies. In her last miscarriage, it was claimed that she gave birth to a deformed fetus, which was said to be as a result of her witchcraft. Despite the witchcraft allegations, Anne’s main reasons for execution as charged by the jury were the crimes of adultery and treason for conspiring with her claimed suitors and lover, which included her brother to kill the King. 

Ridgway argues that Anne’s beheading and execution were as a result of a conspiracy to get rid of her. Despite her disappointments to the King, she was considered a threat by other leaders especially the king’s secretary of state, Cromwell, who considered her reformist ideas contradictory to his, believes and plans.  For instance, Cromwell felt that his policies and plans for the Roman Emperor alliance might be thwarted by Anne. Being the right hand of the King, it was explicit that all the conspiracy plans against Anne were approved by the King since he would not have managed to raise such sensitive allegations about the queen without the King’s wishes. Also, the King had unwarranted amendments on the law of treason highly suggest his involvement. Despite having other options on the case like pardoning her, the king failed to explore them allowing the jury to proceed on the one-sided trajectory, a clear indication of his willingness to get rid of Anne. As a result of the execution, Henry would have the freedom to marry another wife increasing his chance of getting a male heir.

After Cromwell had failed to prove the marriage between King Henry and Anne as invalid, he resorted to the illegal means of framing Anne for adultery and conspiracy to kill the King alongside her alleged lovers. He decided to arrest Mark Smeaton, a musician on 30th 1536 April. It is not known what was done to him with speculations suggesting that he was tortured to implicate Anne. When released, he confessed to having had an affair with the Queen, Anne and making love three times. After that, four more men including George Boleyn Anne’s brother, Francis Weston, Lord Richford, and William Brereton were taken into custody as Anne was summoned before the royal commission, which was constituted by her uncle among other commissioners. She was accused of sleeping three men and charged with adultery as based on the confession from Norris and Smeaton. Even though she denied the accusations, it was her word against three different men, which could no prevent her arrest and execution. All the men arrested were executed for adultery and conspiracy against King Henry. Late on May 17th, 1536, Anne and her brother were tried by a hostile jury, which found them guilty and condemned them to separate executions. Anne was then beheaded on May 19th, 1536, two days after the execution of George, Brereton, Norris, Weston and Smeaton.     

Even though Anna did not manage to redeem herself, lots of evidence points out to her innocence. According to Eric, twelve of the cases contradict each other as either Anne or the man accused was elsewhere. Having many people around her both guards and maids, none of them confessed to her cheating; thus, raising questions on how she would evade all of them when sleeping with five different men without even a single person noticing. The information sent to the French ambassador together with his secretary come from Thomas Cromwell, which might have been propaganda from by the King’s Council to take Anne down since there was no other source to back it up. Furthermore, Cromwell later confessed to planning the entire affair.  The trial seemed predetermine according to the way Justice Spelman handled the evidence against Anne; he failed to talk about Lady Worcester. Also, no other woman among Anne was convicted of treason as an accomplice implying that in case Anne committed adultery none was aware.      

Political and Religious Implications of Anne’s Downfall

Anne’s downfall and beheading had both political and religious implications despite her innocence. As a Tudor, she had great significance in England. Anne seemed more concerned about reforms, which made her more political as opposed to religious. Mostly, she was motivated by ambition and self-interest; however, she did not turn from her Catholic faith as she observed the rituals. She only condemned hypocritical and superstitious behaviors. The English Reformation is attributed to her reformist views and ideas. Besides her love influencing Henry to break England from Rome, she convinced him to appoint bishops who stood for the reforms. She also spared a Lutheran bible for her ladies despite being banned by the king. Additionally, she contributed to the restoration Richard Herman from exile as well as supporting those who had been cast out of the community due to their religious beliefs. By embracing the reforms, she made it easier for others to follow suit.

She was very intelligent a witty in addition to her magnetism, which fascinated various prominent men like Thomas Wyatt besides King Henry. Her character might have contributed greatly towards her downfall. For instance, she had great power and influence over the king which threatened other people like Cromwell who conspired to ensure her downfall. After England had broken from Rome, Anne inclined towards the new religion. This angered those who still wanted to continue with the old religion creating a rebellion. Even though she was despised by Catholics, Reformist Protestants loved and respected her for advocating their course and belief. She championed several reforms to the monastery; for instance, she advocated for the money to be used for more meaningful purposes like charity and education. This contradicted other plans such as Cromwell’s plan to create alliances with other powerful allies like the Roman Emperor. Even though her stand might have contributed to her downfall, it is her efforts that transformed England’s religion and the ties of her monarchy to religion up to date.

Queen Anne opposed the complete termination of the nunneries and monasteries. She was aware of their contribution in supporting the sick, the widows, orphans, and the poor; thus, advocated for their reforms. Understanding the impact on the country’s development, she supported them and only condemned their superstitious beliefs. This further created a great rivalry between her and Cromwell. She then declared war against him since she accused him of destroying England by rendering bad counsel to the king. Considering her brilliance, intelligence and strength as a challenge, King Henry and Cromwell conspired to get rid of her. The king used Cromwell as a proxy to avoid implicating himself. To clear all the traces, Cromwell decided to execute Anne together with all her friends who were considered rebellious like her brother who was a strong Protestant.  Using spies on Anne during her detention she managed to obtain the ammunitions he required for a successful conviction, as Anne commented on people like Weston and Norris.  

Having married Anne for love, they forged rules to get along despite contravening various laws. The union cost Henry and England the relationship with Rome as well as other allies and friends.  After breaking from Rome, King Henry pushed several legislations, which made him the head of England Catholic Church. Despite strongly convincing the king that she was carrying a baby boy, the birth of Elizabeth was seen as a disappointment not only by the King but by the entire realm since the lack a male heir was seen as an opportunity to a civil war and instability, which was still vividly clear in the people's mind. Henry wanted stability, but his hopes were further thwarted by Anne’s consecutive miscarriages. Therefore, the monarchy felt threatened by Anne’s failure to deliver for them a male heir.

The downfall and beheading of Anne set a precedent of eradicating Queens from the throne an act that made Kings the supreme authority, for instance, Henry, later on, beheaded another wife, Catherine Howard. Anne also set a precedent on the possibility of annulling a royal marriage; this was later on experienced when the earl’s daughter married the king in January 1533. Even after her death, Anne’s memory impacted both the next four wives of Henry VIII as well as the subsequent three Tudor monarchs. Her relationship with King Henry VIII was very special and was based on true love; they shared everything based on trust and faith. This trend changed after her downfall since most of the subsequent marriages were merely arrangement not based on love; thus, the kings shared nothing concerning leadership with their queens. The wives could not confront their Kings as Anne did since they were aware of the consequence were they to provoke their Kings. Through Anne’s execution, King Henry realized how powerful he could be to deal with any potential threat either political or religious. Compared to the time it took to divorce his first wife Catherine, the downfall of Anne was quick, this was attributed to the ideas Anne herself impacted on King Henry caressing his ego and enlightening him on the bad and good things he could accomplish with it. She ended up becoming the first victim followed by others as Henry’s power rose to the next level. For example, after Anne’s demise, another marriage was annulled. He also beheaded his fourth wife Catherine Howard and almost sentenced another wife into imprisonment. This tyrant behavior continued since Henry realized he was the supreme authority and he had no consequences to face whatsoever. He continued killing whenever he please throughout his reign. Anne’s trust and influence over King Henry VIII made him independent from corrupt advisers who previously had control over him. All these changed by her downfall as corruption rekindled back after her beheading.

It is difficult to understand how such a brilliant, strong, witty, and educated woman would go down without a fight or even challenging the jury’s decision to behead her. Considering her last speech, Anne submitted to the rule of law and willingly accepted her fate to rest finally in peace from her troubles. Some argue that all were in favor for her daughter, Elizabeth, who had been rendered illegitimate and striped off the royal property. Based on this understanding, her submission was more of a wise decision to protect her daughter as she was not banished from king’s court, and later on, she manages to rise and become the Queen of England and reclaiming her struggle for reforms.

Conclusion

Anne Boleyn condemnation and beheading was unjust as it was surrounded by conspiracy. Contrary to that, some evidence has shown that Anne might not have been innocent as other historians suggest. Despite sleeping with five men seeming preposterous and untrue, there is a chance that the queen might have possibly committed some of the alleged crimes. Even though some of the evidence indicated otherwise, the jury had formed predetermined opinion on the judgment leaving Anne without a proper chance to defend herself. Most of the claims like witchcraft, adultery, treason, and incest had no sufficient evidence apart from the ones preplanned and orchestrated by Cromwell and his spies. The allegations were just part of the plot to get rid of her by the king and his friends like Cromwell who felt threatened by her intelligence and power. There are so many flaws in the evidence upon which she was executed. The implications of her downfall both politically and religiously surpassed the allegation making her one of the greatest Queens in the history of England. Her reformative ideas led to the liberation and freedom of the English people. Politically, Anne was the main reason for England breaking from Rome since her marriage to King Henry contributed to Catherine’s divorce, which in turn led to his excommunication from the Catholic Church.

Bibliography

Dormer, Natalie. "Anne the Queen": Anne Boleyn: Impact and Legacy. N.p., 2013. Accessed. 13 Aug. 2016.

Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell, 2004

Paul, Friedmann. The downfall of Anne Boleyn. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing, 2015.

Pavlac, Brian A. "Anne Boleyn." Anne Boleyn. MMV Prof. Pavlac Women's History Resource Site, 2007. Accessed. 13 Aug. 2016.

Ridgway, Claire. "Mark Smeaton with the Marmalade in the Cupboard - The Anne Boleyn Files." The Anne Boleyn Files RSS. Tudor History Since 2009, 2010. Accessed. 13 Aug. 2016.

Ridgway, Claire. "Why Was Anne Boleyn Executed?” The Anne Boleyn Files RSS. Tudor History Since 2009, 2009. Accessed. 13 Aug. 2016.

June 14, 2022
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