On May 15, 1536, Anne Boleyn and her brother George, Lord Rochford, were accused of adultery and incest. From the article:
"History - Anne Boleyn and the Downfall of her Family
By Richard Bevan
Anne Boleyn was the first English queen to be publicly executed. Five hundred years after her death, her tragic tale is still the subject of historians and the inspiration for films. Out of all of Henry VIII's wives, Anne is perhaps the most famous and instantly associated with the gargantuan Tudor King.
Introduction On the 19th May, 1536 at 8.00am, a thirty-six-year-old woman took her place on a scaffold dressed in a robe of black damask covered by an ermine mantle of white. Instead of denying her guilt as an adulteress and disciple of witchcraft, she delivered a generous speech praising her former lord and lover Henry VIII. After being blindfolded, she waited only a few seconds before a French swordsman severed her head from her delicate neck.
Greek tragedy The story of the Boleyns could be likened to a Greek tragedy. They were an accomplished family, ennobled within a short period of time, only to find themselves the victims of the very prominence so desperately sought and attained by Anne's father, Sir Thomas Boleyn. His daughter's rapid ascension to the throne due to his own influence was also to be his entire family's undoing when Anne was accused of treason.
The story of the Boleyns could be likened to a Greek tragedy.
Thomas, only fourteen years older than Henry himself, was a respected mercer with a talent for languages and diplomacy. He was already established at the Royal Court well before Henry became King in 1509. Even his marriage to the well-connected Lady Elizabeth Howard seemed to work to his advantage, enhancing his ruthless ambitions.
A father's master plan Their three children, George, Mary and Anne, were all well-educated and formed part of their father's grand master plan to attain greater power and status. Anne, the youngest of the sisters, was extremely close to her brother George but possibly had a more distant relationship with her elder sister Mary, exacerbated by the fact that the latter became a discarded mistress of Henry.
The young girls spent their teenage years in France as ladies-in-waiting to Henry's sister the French Queen. Later they were to part when Anne was transferred to the court of the new French Queen, Claude, while Mary returned home. Anne arrived back in England when she was about twenty and was immediately placed in the household of Henry's wife, Katherine of Aragon, as maid of honour.
Sexual magnetism Anne's French manner in both dress sense and attitude charmed many at the English court. Her dark looks were at the time unfashionable and although she was never recognised as a great beauty, her sexual magnetism and the way she captivated those around her is well documented. Indeed her presence influenced women at court to copy her sartorial style. It was this 'difference' as well as her wit, intelligence and effervescence that attracted the King. Some years later, Henry was to convince himself that he had been 'bewitched' by Anne when she was accused of adultery.
It was said that she was the only woman who ever dared to argue and answer back to Henry.
But as Anne's status increased with the prospect of becoming Henry's consort, so her own star's ascendancy helped enrich her family's fortunes. Anne's father was created Earl of Wiltshire and her brother Lord George Rochford was appointed to the Royal Privy Chamber. Even brother-in-law William Carey benefited from his association with the Boleyns.
Henry secretly wed Anne on 25th of January, 1533, and with that secured the Boleyns' status as one of the most influential families in the land. It was said that she was the only woman who ever dared to argue and answer back to Henry. At the time, the King tolerated his lover's feisty demeanour and her witty repartee excited him. Years later, perhaps reflecting on his tumultuous relationship with Anne, Henry was to insist on a future wife who was servile and 'untroublesome'. It is also questionable whether Anne really loved Henry or simply relished the idea of becoming Queen after her initial betrothal to Lord Henry Percy was callously terminated by Cardinal Wolsey. There is little doubt that had she married Percy as intended, she would have at least avoided an early demise at the executioner's block.
Accusations Despite producing a healthy baby girl, Elizabeth, Anne's failure to provide a male heir was the beginning of the end of her and her family's streak of good luck. Henry's disaffection caused by her second miscarriage of a defective child was the one act - besides accusations of adultery - that would certainly destroy his trust in her. She had to be blamed for bringing about misfortune into the nursery as Henry would never be found culpable.
Anne's failure to provide a male heir was the beginning of the end of her and her family's streak of good luck.
Instead five innocent men, including Anne's brother Lord Rochford, became the sacrificial lambs to rid Henry of what had become to him as tiresome a predicament as his protracted divorce from Queen Catherine. Whether or not Henry chose to accept the accusations of Anne's adultery in order to salve his own conscience is not clear, but it must be remembered that the belief in witchcraft in the 16th century associated the birth of deformed babies with illicit sexual practices.
Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, Mark Smeaton, Sir Henry Norris and Anne's brother Lord Rochford were arrested under suspicion of having relations with the Queen. The famous poet Sir Thomas Wyatt was also imprisoned but later released from the Tower. All the accused men were well known for their licentious behaviour and for this reason possibly became easy targets for incrimination.
When Anne finally heard about the allegations she laughed at the absurdity of such findings...
A secret commission, including Thomas Cromwell, Anne's father and her uncle the Duke of Norfolk, was put forward to inquire into allegations of sexual misconduct and witchcraft by the Queen. At first Anne was unaware of the conspiratorial efforts to bring about her downfall and it is more than likely that her father warned her of the seriousness of the matter. When Anne finally heard about the allegations, she laughed at the absurdity of such findings when some of her accused lovers such as the musician and possibly homosexual Mark Smeaton had only met her briefly.
Anne's brother, Lord Rochford was the most important suspect. He was accused of responsibility for his sister's last miscarried child after it was alleged that both he and Anne had conspired out of desperation to produce a male heir. Interestingly Rochford's wife, Jane Parker, perhaps motivated by vengeance for her husband's rumoured affairs, spoke ill of him during court proceedings. Ironically Parker was herself beheaded several years later for treason relating to Henry's fifth and equally doomed wife Catherine Howard.
Sorcery At Anne's trial, presided over by her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, she was accused of acting the 'libertine' before her marriage to Henry. So many factors worked against the Queen, reinforcing the view that she was a disciple of Satan who had 'bewitched' Henry with sorcery. Anne's minor physical defects, namely an extra digit on her hand and a prominent neck mole added to the belief that she was a 'she-devil'. Above all, her inability to produce a healthy male heir condemned her further. Despite inaccuracies relating to dates when Anne was supposed to have conducted her affairs, the belief that as a witch she could materialise in any place at any time invalidated any such evidence from being used in her defence.
Imprisonment Anne's minor physical defects... added to the belief that she was a 'she-devil'.
After Anne's arrival at the Tower in April 1536 it was noted that her behaviour oscillated from a resigned calmness to occasional bouts of hysteria and depression. One moment she would be laughing, sometimes maniacally, the next weeping uncontrollably. It is perhaps little wonder that due to her miscarriage several months before and worrying about her family, that she was extremely emotional during this stressful time. William Kingston, the Constable of the Tower took pity on Anne and recorded that she enquired about her father, also her 'sweet broder (brother)' and lamented that her mother would die of 'sorrow' for her.
During Anne's imprisonment at the Tower - ironically in the same state rooms she had resided during her happy coronation - her family were forbidden to see her. Perhaps it is not too difficult to imagine how Anne's family must have suffered. Apart from the shame of being socially ostracised, they must have indeed been in a state of shock and disbelief that their once privileged and envied existence was crumbling around them. Anne's parents were after all not only witnessing the humiliating downfall of their daughter, the Queen of England, but also the destruction of a much loved son.
Anne was left in agonising uncertainty of whether she would be beheaded or burned at the stake...
On Monday 15th of May, 1536, the Duke of Norfolk proclaimed the death sentence on Anne with 'tears in his eyes'. The convicted men suffered painful deaths. Anne herself was left in agonising uncertainty of whether she would be beheaded or burned at the stake, until her friend and supporter Archbishop Cramner was able to inform her that she would be spared the latter.
Social ostracism It is difficult to imagine how Sir Thomas, Anne's father, managed to continue his role at the royal court both during his daughter's trial and after her execution. Did he become emotionally dislocated in order to protect the rest of his family or was he perhaps convinced that Anne would be spared the executioner's axe? Sadly there are no written records that have survived to contribute to a clearer understanding. But the fact that Sir Thomas' much loved and only son was accused of incest could only have served to increase the degree of shame and trauma visited upon the Boleyn family. It is baffling to think that Anne's father could continue working in such close proximity to his children's slayer. Certainly the fear of what Henry may do to remaining members of the Boleyn family perhaps influenced Sir Thomas to continue working by Henry's side.
After Thomas' wife died in 1537, a year after Anne's death, he shortly passed away himself. It was said Elizabeth, Anne's mother, had died from a broken heart. A remaining daughter, Mary, died in 1542 but was survived by a young daughter and the rumoured illegitimate son of Henry.
Less than eight years after Anne had become Queen of England and brought about the ennoblement her father had so desperately sought, not one member of the immediate Boleyn household had survived. It is believed that remaining relatives, stigmatised by such tragic events, left England's shores for Ireland."