Timeline of the fall of Anne Boleyn

Originally posted on May 19, 2023.

7 September 1533: At around three o’clock in the afternoon, on the eve of the feast of the Virgin, Anne Boleyn gives birth to daughter, the future Elizabeth I, at Greenwich Palace. Confident that the child would be a boy, a document prepared to announce the arrival of a prince was swiftly altered when Elizabeth was born, adding an additional ‘s’ to the end. 

24 January 1536: 44-year-old Henry VIII is critically injured in a jousting accident at Greenwich. The King’s heir presumptive is his infant daughter Elizabeth.

Catherine of Aragon attributed to Joannes Corvus

29 January 1536: Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, is interred. Her death on 7 January ended more than a decade of contention over the validity of their marriage, and would, it was hoped, allow England to restore friendly relations with her nephew, the Emperor. However, on the day of Catherine’s funeral, Anne Boleyn miscarries, as it has been written, ‘of her saviour’. It is reported that the foetus had the appearance of a male.

10 February 1536: The King begins to show favour to Jane Seymour, a young and relatively obscure lady in the Queen’s household.

1 April 1536: Chapuys reports that Catholic Conservatives at court had heard of a breach in Anne and Cromwell’s relationship. Amid worsening relations between the Queen and Henry’s foremost statesman, the King visits his new paramour, Jane Seymour, in secret; ordering her apartments to be placed closer to his own.

2 April 1536: Anne’s almoner, John Skip, preaches a controversial sermon comparing Cromwell to King Ahasuerus’s evil adviser Haman (following Anne’s disputes with Cromwell over the dissolution of the monasteries). Likely delivered with Anne’s blessing, the sermon criticized the advice being given to the King and condemned the ‘lure to personal gain.’ It was clear that this was a direct and personal attack on Cromwell.

18 April 1536: Imperial Ambassador Chapuys is tricked into recognising Anne Boleyn as Queen of England.

24 April 1536: Sir Thomas Audley, Thomas Cromwell’s right-hand man, sets up two commissions of oyer and terminer for crimes committed in Middlesex and Kent.

25 April 1536: A master of dissembling, Henry VIII refers to Anne as his ‘most dear and entirely beloved wife the Queen’ in a letter, declaring his hopes for a son and heir. This comes only a day after the commissions of oyer and terminer had been appointed.

26 April 1536: Perhaps sensing the dangers to come, Anne charges her chaplain, Matthew Parker, with the spiritual care of her daughter, Elizabeth, should anything happen to her. In a letter dated to 1572, Parker expresses that he would not have chosen to serve Queen Elizabeth had he not felt so ‘bound’ to Anne. 

Henry VIII by Joos van Cleve

28 April 1536: The King’s Council is recorded to convene daily, discussing ‘certain letters brought by the French ambassador.’ It is unclear if the meetings were explicitly about Anne.

29 April 1536: Anne and Mark Smeaton engage in a public quarrel which would later be twisted into evidence against the Queen. In the heat of the argument, Anne put Smeaton (who she suspected of being infatuated with her) squarely in his place. Also on that day, Anne accused Sir Henry Norris of looking for ‘dead men’s shoes, for if aught came to the King but good, [Norris] would look to have me.’ Anne’s anger, coupled with what the daunting realization that something was dangerously amiss in her marriage, led her to speak recklessly. Immediately recognizing the implications of her words, Anne ordered Norris to go to her almoner and swear an oath about her character. (It was treason to speak of the King’s death, and inappropriate besides for the Queen to speak so rashly). 

30 April 1536: Henry and Anne’s trip to Calais is canceled; the King and Queen argue. A Scottish theologian, Alexander Alesius, visiting the royal court at Greenwich, later gave an account of the quarrel he’d witnessed between Anne and Henry to their daughter, Elizabeth: “never shall I forget the sorrow which I felt when I saw the most serene queen, your most religious mother, carrying you, still a baby, in her arms and entreating the most serene king your father, in Greenwich  Palace, from the open window of which he was looking into the courtyard,  when she brought you to him.” On the same day, Mark Smeaton is arrested and taken to Cromwell’s home to be interrogated. The interrogation lasted nearly 24-hours and resulted in Smeaton confessing to adultery with Anne.

Thomas Cromwell

1 May 1536: The King and Queen attend a May Day joust, where Anne Boleyn’s brother, Lord Rochford, leads the challengers. King Henry departs suddenly with Sir Henry Norris and questions him.

2 May 1536: Norris is escorted to the Tower, where Smeaton is already incarcerated. The Queen and her brother are arrested. Anne is taken to the Tower via barge.

3 May 1536: The Archbishop Thomas Cranmer writes to Henry, expressing his shock over the Queen’s arrest: “I am clean amazed, for I had never better opinion of woman.” In deference to the King, he also adds, “but I think your Highness would not have gone  so far if she had not been culpable.” In the Tower, Anne implicates Henry Norris and Sir Francis Weston.

4 May 1536: Francis Weston and Sir William Brereton are arrested. Jane Boleyn sends a letter of comfort to her husband.

6 May 1536: Anne Boleyn writes to Henry VIII whilst imprisoned in the Tower. The letter’s authenticity has been debated (though sound evidence for its genuineness prevails). 

9 May 1536: Little more than a week after the Queen’s arrest, the sheriffs of London receive directive to convene a grand jury of ‘discreet and sufficient persons’ to decide prima facie (based on the first impression) the offenses alleged against Anne at Whitehall Palace and Hampton Court. The grand jury opts to initiate the official legal proceedings against the Queen. Though their arrests had been piecemeal, it was around this time that the four men  condemned with Anne might have also realized that their fates were sealed.

12 May 1536: Sir Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton, Sir Francis Weston and Sir William Brereton, the four men ‘more accused than convicted’ of adultery with Queen Anne Boleyn, are tried and condemned. Throughout England, many expressed sorrow over the trial and the arraignment of four well-liked and widely respected gentlemen. Also on 12 May, Anne’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, was temporarily invested as Lord High Steward of England, and as such would preside over the trials of the Queen and her brother George Boleyn.

Unknown man, Possibly George Boleyn, 2nd Viscount Rochford

13 May 1536: Henry Percy, the Duke of Northumberland, writes to Thomas Cromwell regarding an alleged pre-contract between himself and the Queen. He refuted any prior involvement with Anne, ultimately dashing Cromwell’s hopes to obtain a convenient annulment for the King’s marriage. Also on this day: Anne Boleyn’s royal household was disbanded and dissolved.

14 May 1536: Sir Nicholas Carew moves Jane Seymour to Chelsea Place in London, avoiding rumours that the King imprisoned one wife in order to take another.

15 May 1536: Anne and George Boleyn are found guilty in a sensational trial whose jury includes their own father. They are sentenced to death.

16 May 1536: Archbishop Cranmer visits Anne Boleyn in the Tower, hoping to receive a confession from the Queen regarding impediments to her marriage to the King. Francis Weston pens a farewell letter to his parents.

17 May 1536: Executions of Norris, Smeaton, Weston, Brereton and George Boleyn. Henry and Anne’s marriage is annulled.

18 May 1536: Anne Boleyn is informed that her execution is postponed. She has one day left to live.

19 May 1536: Anne is beheaded on Tower Green by a swordsman from Calais. She protests her innocence until the last, declaring: ‘I am come hither to die, for according to the law and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it.’ 

Posthumous depiction of Jane Seymour from Henry VIII’s family painting, circa 1545

20 May 1536: One day after the execution of his second wife, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour are formally betrothed.

30 May 1536:  Jane and Henry marry 11 days after Anne Boleyn’s execution. 

4 June 1536: Jane Seymour is proclaimed Queen at Greenwich; she adopts the motto ‘bound to obey and service.’ In October of 1537, after delivering a son, Jane dies of puerperal fever.

A late 16th century portrait of Queen Anne Boleyn

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