Anne Boleyn was executed on May 19th 1536 and her marriage to King Henry VIII was declared as invalid. The charges with which Anne was accused include adultery with five men, incest with her brother George Boleyn, and high treason for allegedly imagining the Kings death and conspiring with her lovers to procure the Kings death. Long after her fall Anne Boleyn continues to fascinate people all over the world.
Her life has been adapted into numerous novels, plays, songs, television dramas and films and is also the focus of historical debate.This fascination results from the continuing controversy over her death and the important role she played during a turbulent era in English history. Many feel that Henry’s marriage to Anne and her subsequent execution were part of the complex beginning stages of the political and religious upheaval of the English reformation, where Anne herself actively promoted the cause of Church reform. Anne and Henry also gave birth to Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled England for forty years and is often considered one of England’s greatest rulers.
A limited amount of resources and information survives about the fall of Anne Boleyn thus making it a compelling but easily debatable historical event. However, historians such as G. W. Bernard, E.
W. Ives and Retha Warnick are examples of scholars who continue to attempt to solve the mystery surrounding the fall of Anne Boleyn. Each attempting to answer the following questions: What events brought about Anne’s downfall? And, perhaps most importantly, was Anne guilty of the charges which led to her execution.In his paper, “The Fall of Anne Boleyn” historian George Bernard believes that Anne was guilty for the charges laid against her and traces her downfall to Elizabeth Browne, the Countess of Worcester.
Bernard supports his theory by first discrediting historian Retha Warnicke’s proposal that Anne’s downfall was caused by a miscarriage in January of 1536, describing such a notion as, “extravagant speculation. ” Bernard recognizes that Anne and Henry’s marriage was occasionally “volatile” but claims that this “does not mean that Henry had finally tired of Anne or that her miscarriage had irrevocably damned her in his eyes. Bernard considers the idea that the fetus was deformed which, during this era, could have connected Anne to witchcraft or illicit sexual behaviour.However, he concludes that there is insufficient evidence to support such an idea and credits and outburst from Henry in which, “he claimed that he had made [their] marriage while seduced by witchcraft,” to sadness over the loss of a child rather than an attempt by Henry to disconnect himself from the paternity of a deformed baby.
Throughout his paper Bernard gives Henry the benefit of the doubt.He feels that, “just because we know that Henry did indeed marry Jane Seymour it should not be assumed that he was already set upon marriage with her in February and March. ” Therefore, discrediting the theory that Henry, tiring of Anne, had her executed on trumped up charges of adultery and incest so he could marry Jane. Bernard finds this theory unlikely and believes rather that Henry intended to take Jane as his mistress as he was devoted to his marriage with Anne up until her infidelities were discovered.
In support of this theory he puts a lot of emphasis on an encounter between Eustace Chapuys and Anne.Bernard ensues that it is highly significant that Henry wanted Chapuys to publicly acknowledge Anne because it suggests that at this point Anne was still secure in Henry’s favour. He concludes that, if Henry was already intending to discard Anne, either because of the miscarriage or because he wanted to marry Jane, there would have been no advantage to such a procedure. Bernard also rejects Eric Ives perspective that Anne was destroyed by a court conspiracy engineered by Thomas Cromwell.
In Bernard’s opinion this renders Henry as “weak” which contradicts his view of Henry as a strong and dominant leader.He also finds faults’ regarding Cromwell’s supposed motives against Anne. He exposes what he feels are inadequacies of explanation such as the idea that Cromwell sided with Anne’s enemies over issues of foreign policy and monetary distribution even though Cromwell and Anne had been close and she held the position of Queen. Bernard also regards a letter written by Chapuys, in which he states that Cromwell informed him he had managed the affair, as a reference to Cromwell’s part in the investigation, trial and execution or as evidence of Chapuys’s dislike for Anne and his unreliability as a source.
In support of his own theory, that Anne was guilty, Bernard turns to a French poem by Lancelot de Carles, Bishop of Riez, which recounts how an aristocratic lady, whom he regards as the Countess of Worcester, responded to her brothers reproaches of her own indiscretions by incriminating the Queen. Bernard then supports this evidence with letters depicting pastimes in the Queen’s chambers, the Queen’s recollections when she was imprisoned in the tower and what Bernard characterizes as Anne’s flirtatious manner.He also investigates each of Anne’s alleged lovers individually considering Anne’s ability to travel and mistakes made by court clerks to explain any inconsistencies in the alleged dates of the affairs. Bernard decides that because Wyatt, Bryan and Page were all arrested and then released while Norris, Weston, Breteon, Boleyn and Smeaton were arrested, tried and executed it is rational to surmise that Anne was involved with at least some of the accused.
Though all the courtier gentlemen accused denied the charges Bernard concludes that, “[p]erhaps the safest guess for a modern historian is that Anne had indeed committed adultery with Norris and briefly with Mark Smeaton and that there was enough circumstantial evidence to cast reasonable doubt in the denials of the others. ” Bernard’s case is built on a solid scholarly assessment of sources. He takes a well known story and re-examines all of the contemporary evidence and through this process creates a new position.Though he often follows a “what if? ” scenario he approaches sources and events from a mathematical perspective which forces the reader to be open minded.
Bernard’s use of primary sources like Eustace Chapuys and the Lancelot de Carles poem strengthens his argument. As he often demonstrates the limitations and biases of these sources, they do not interfere with his argument for the most part. However, though Bernard’s argument is compelling it lacks some consideration of historical details.Firstly, he does not consider the couples need and desire for a male heir and it seems unlikely that Anne Boleyn would have risked her pregnancy with so many affairs.
Secondly, he dismisses the evidence of Anne’s ladies, deeming them unimportant whilst their exclusion from the trials is, most likely, highly significant. Thirdly, if we accept that the dates for the alleged affairs are approximate, as many of them do not coincide with court records, Anne would have been extremely busy executing her affairs.This seems even more unlikely considering that Anne suffered a miscarriage during this time period. Therefore, though Bernard’s article is thought-provoking he excludes or dismisses evidence that clearly contradicts his thesis.
In his paper “The Fall of Anne Boleyn Reconsidered” historian Eric Ives believes that Anne is innocent of the charges laid against her and traces her downfall to a court conspiracy engineered by political factions.He agrees with Bernard in his analysis of Warnicke’s theory but questions the reliability of his sources, refuting them as, “news, rumour” and “reports. He challenges the de Carles poem Bernard relies on because the woman in the poem is never specified and because Anne had a close friendship with Elizabeth Browne and therefore the woman’s betrayal would, “contradict[s] their friendship. ” Ives also believes that indirect interpretations of events altered their original meanings and he supports this possibility with specific examples.
Ives considers an argument that took place between Anne and Norris which was later understood as a plot against the King and used as evidence to support the charges of treason.He feels that this was a misinterpretation of events and rather understands it as Anne’s frustration over undesired advances by Norris. He considers the possibility of a “false confession” from Mark Smeaton whilst under “psychological pressure,” if not torture. And he also considers the ambiguous nature of flirting, which, when taken out of context, can prove incriminating.
Ives breaks his review of Bernard’s paper into two parts “defense” and “prosecution.For the defense evidence he examines Breton considering his relationship with Anne, his alibi, and his plea for innocence. From this Ives concludes that because Anne showed little reaction to his arrest, because Breton had a strong alibi and because Breton consistently pled not guilty to all charges his involvement in the case is most likely due to a disagreement with Cromwell and not the alleged affair. He also notes that Norris pled guilty even though he was offered a sort of plea bargain, which Ives regards as highly suspicious.
Also important to “the defense” are Anne’s ladies in waiting, none of whom were charged in connection to the case, a situation which Ives regards as highly suspicious, especially since some of Anne’s ladies passed into the services of Henry’s next Queen, Jane Seymour. For these reasons he concludes that Bernard relies too much on assumption rather than concrete fact. For the prosecution evidence Ives focuses on court record, more specifically, the “identical indictments,” which included information on relationships with Anne, information on the alleged conspiracy against Henry and details of the adulteries.Ives demonstrates that the majority of the described dates of the alleged affairs coincide, stating that, “at most six are plausible” because the accused were rarely at the places that the alleged affairs took place.
He decides, therefore, that the most plausible explanation for the inconsistencies are that they are “fabricated,” arguing against the possibility of mistake by court clerks and Anne’s ability to travel between courts. To further support this point Ives demonstrates how the law was manipulated to support the charges and questions why such steps were taken if the accused were indeed guilty.Like Bernard, Ives believes that Henry, “turned against Anne between 18 and 24 of April” however, Ives links Henry’s motivation to courtiers of the conservative faction rather than Henry’s own ideas. In support of this theory he refers to two letters written by Chapuys which indicate Henry’s interest in Jane and growing support for Princess Mary.
In support of his own argument, that Anne was innocent, Ives first refers to two letters written by Chapuys.For Ives these letters indicate Henry’s interest in Jane and growing support for Princess Mary, Henry’s daughter with Katherine of Aragon, both of which he feels led to Anne’s destruction Ives examines all the events surrounding Anne’s fall and connects motives to, “dislike for the Boleyns, respect for the Aragon marriage and hostility to recent attacks on the church, but…
primarily personal terms. ” Ives argument is convincing because it is a comprehensive, detailed account of what solid historical evidence is available.He makes a clear distinction between what material may be conjecture and what material is more reliable and objective. His consideration of the inconsistencies of records, review of relationships and roles and is what makes his argument the most believable.
Ives portrayal of Anne reveals someone with intellect, power and passion rather than Bernard’s meeker version of Anne, such a portrayal seems more realistic for a woman who There are some elements however which weaken Ives argument. Firstly his consistent referral to his own work as support for his argument, as Bernard notes, “he makes no fewer than fifty references” to himself.