ANNE FORGIVES HER ENEMIES, AND IS PUT TO DEATH. (MAY 1536.)
EVERYTHING was preparing for the unjust judgment which was to have so cruel a termination. Justice is bound to watch that the laws are observed, and to punish the guilty; but if law is to be just law, the judges must listen fairly to the accused, diligently discharge all the duties to which their office calls them, and not permit themselves to be influenced either by the presents or the solicitations, the threats or the favors, or the rank (even should it be royal) of the prosecutor. Their decisions should be inspired only by such motives as they can give an account of to the Supreme Judge; their sentences must be arrived at through attentive consideration and serious reflection. For them there are no other guides than impartiality, conscience, and law. But the queen was not to appear before such judges’ those who were about to dispose of her life set themselves in opposition to these imperious conditions.
Henry’s agents redoubled their exertions to obtain, either from the ladies of the court or from the accused men, some deposition against Anne; but it was in vain. Even the women whom her elevation had eclipsed could allege nothing against her. Henry Norris, William Brereton, and Sir :Francis Weston were carefully interrogated, one after the other: the examiners tried to make them confess their adultery, but they stoutly denied it; whereupon the king’s agents, who were determined to get at something, began a fresh inquiry, and cross-examined the prisoners. It is believed that the gentlemen of the court were exempted from torture, but that the rack was applied to Mark Smeton, who was thus made to confess all they wanted. It is more probable that the vile musician, a man of weak head and extreme vanity, being offended that his sovereign had not condescended even to look at him, yielded to the vengeance of irritated self-esteem. The queen had not been willing to give him the honor of a look — he boasted of adultery. The three gentlemen persevered in their declaration touching the queen’s innocence: Lord Rocheford did the same. The disheartened prosecutor wrote to the Lord-Treasurer: ‘This is to inform you that no one, except Mark, will confess anything against her; wherefore I imagine, if there be no other evidence, the business will be injurious to the king’s honor.’ The lawyers knew the value to be given to the musician’s words. If the verdict was left to the equitable interpretation of the law — if the king did not bring his sovereign influence to bear upon the decisions of the judges, there could be no doubt as to the issue of the hateful trial.
But every passion was at work to paralyze the power of right. Vainly the queen’s innocence shone forth on every side — the conspiracy formed against her grew stronger every day. To the wickedness of Lady Rocheford, the jealousies of an intriguing camarilla, the hatred of the ultramontane party, the unbridled ambition aroused in certain families by the prospects of the despot’s couch soon to be empty though stained with blood, and to the instability of weak men, was added the strong will of Henry VIII., as determined to get rid of Anne by death as he had been to separate from Catherine by divorce. The queen understood that she must die; and, wishing to be prepared, she sought to wean herself from that life which had so many attractions for her. She felt that the pleasures she had so enjoyed were vain; the knowledge that she had endeavored to acquire, superficial; the virtue to which she had aspired, imperfect; and the active life she had desired, without decisive results. The vanity of all created things, once proclaimed by one who also had occupied a throne, struck her heart. Everything being taken from her, she renounced Le vain espoir de ce muable monde. Anne, giving up everything, turned towards a better life, and sought to strengthen herself in God. Such were her affecting dispositions when the duke of Norfolk, accompanied by other noblemen, came in the king’s name to set before her the charges brought against her, to summon her to speak the truth, and to assure her that, if she confessed her fault, the king might pardon her. Anne replied with the dignity of a queen still upon the throne, and with the calmness of a Christian at the gates of eternity. She threw back with noble indignation the vile accusations of which the royal commissioners were the channel: Aces seigneurs, parlant comme maltresse. ‘You call upon me to speak the truth,’ she said to Norfolk. ‘Well then, the king shall know it,’ and she dismissed the lords. It was beneath her to plead her cause before these malicious courtiers, but she would tell her husband the truth. Left alone, she sat down to write that celebrated letter, a noble monument of the elevation of her staff; a letter full of the tenderest complaints and the sharpest protests, in which her innocence shines forth, and which combines at once so much nature and eloquence that in the opinion of the most competent judges it deserves to be handed down to posterity. It ran as follows:— ‘Your Grace’s displeasure and my imprisonment are things so strange unto me, that what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you sent to me (willing me to confess a truth and so obtain your favor), by such a one whom you know to be my ancient professed enemy; I no sooner received this message by him, than I rightly conceived your meaning; and if, as you say, confessing a truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all willingness and duty perform your command. ‘But let not your Grace ever imagine that your poor wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a fault, where not so much as a thought thereof ever proceeded. And, to speak truth, never a prince had wife more loyal in all duty and in all true affection, than you have ever found in Anne Boleyn with which name and place I could willingly have contented myself, if God and your Grace’s pleasure had so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forget myself in my exaltation or received queen-ship, but that I always looked for such alteration as I now find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer foundation than your Grace’s fancy, the least alteration was fit and sufficient (I knew) to draw that fancy to some other subject. ‘You have chosen me from a low estate to be your queen and companion, far beyond my desert or desire. If then you found me worthy of such honor, good your Grace, let not any light fancy or bad counsel of my enemies withdraw your princely favor from me; neither let that stain that unworthy stain of a disloyal heart towards your good Grace ever cast so foul a blot on me and on the infant princess, your daughter. ‘Try me, good king, but let me have a lawful trial, and let not my sworn enemies sit as my accusers and as my judges; yea, let me receive an open trial, for my truth shall fear no open shames. Then shall you see either mine innocence cleared, your suspicions and conscience satisfied, the ignominy and slander of the world stopped — or my guilt openly declared; so that whatever God and you may determine of, your Grace may be freed from an open censure, and mine offense being so lawfully proved, your Grace may be at liberty, both before God and man, not only to execute worthy punishment on me, as an unfaithful wife, but to follow your affection already settled on that party, for whose sake I am now as I am; whose name I could, some good while since, have pointed unto, your Grace being not ignorant of my suspicion therein. But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death but an infamous slander must bring you the joying of your desired happiness, then I desire of God that He will pardon your great sin herein, and likewise my enemies, the instruments thereof; and that He will not call you to a strict account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me at His general judgment-seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear; and in whose just judgment, I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me), mine innocency shall be openly known and sufficiently cleared. ‘My last and only request shall be, that myself may only bear the burden of your Grace’s displeasure, and that it may not touch the innocent souls of those poor gentlemen, who, as I understand, are likewise in strait imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found favor in your sight — if ever the name of Anne Boleyn have been pleasing in your ears — then let me obtain this request; and so I will leave to trouble your Grace any further; with mine earnest prayer to the Trinity to have your Grace in His good keeping, and to direct you in all your actions. ‘From my doleful prison in the Tower, the 6th of May. ‘Anne Boleyn.’ We see Anne thoroughly in this letter, one of the most touching that was ever written. Injured in her honor, she speaks without fear, as one on the threshold of eternity. If there were no other proofs of her innocence, this document alone would suffice to gain her cause in the eyes of an impartial and intelligent posterity. That noble letter aroused a tempest in the king’s heart. The firm innocence stamped on it; the mention of Henry’s tastes, and especially of his inclination for Jane Seymour; Anne’s declaration that she had anticipated her husband’s infidelity, the solemn appeal to the day of judgment, and the thought of the injury which such noble language would do to his reputation all combined to fill that haughty prince with vexation, hatred, and wrath. That letter gives the real solution of the enigma. A guilty caprice had inclined Henry to Anne Boleyn; another caprice inclined him now to Jane Seymour. This explanation is so patent that no one need look for another.
Henry determined to inflict a great humiliation upon this daring woman.
He would strip her of the name of wife, and pretend that she had only been his concubine. As his marriage with Catherine of Aragon had been declared null because of her union with his brother Arthur, Henry imagined that his marriage with Anne Boleyn might be annulled because of an attachment once entertained for her by Percy, afterwards duke of Northumberland. When that nobleman was summoned before Cromwell, he thought that he also was to be thrown into the Tower as the queen’s lover; but the summons had reference to quite a different matter. ‘There was a pre-contract of marriage between you and Anne Boleyn?’ asked the king’s vicar-general. ‘None at all,’ he answered; and in order that his declaration might be recorded, he wrote it down and sent it to Cromwell.
In it he said: ‘Referring to the oath I made in this matter before the archbishops of Canterbury and York, and before the Blessed Body of our Savior, which I received in the presence of the duke of Norfolk, and others of his majesty’s counsellors, I acknowledge to have eaten the Holy Sacrament to my condemnation, if there was any contract or promise of marriage between the queen and me. This 13th of May, in the twentyeighth year of his majesty King Henry VIII.’ This declaration was clear, but the barbarous monarch did not relinquish his idea.
A special commission had been appointed, on the 24th of April, ‘to judge of certain offenses committed at London, Hampton Court, and Greenwich.’ They desired to give to this trial the appearance at least of justice; and as the alleged offenses were committed in the counties of Middlesex and Kent, the indictment was laid before the grand juries of both counties. On the 20th of May they found a true bill. The writers favorable to Henry VIII. in this business — and they are few — have acknowledged that these ‘hideous charges’ (to use the words of one of them) were but fables invented at pleasure, and which ‘overstepped all ordinary heralds of credulity.’ Various explanations have been given of the conduct of these juries; the most natural appears to be that they accommodated themselves, according to the servile manner of the times, to the king’s despotic will, which was always to be feared, but more especially in matters that concerned his own person.
The acts that followed were as prompt as they were cruel. Two days after (on May 12) Norris, Weston, Brereton, and the musician were taken to Westminster, and brought before a commission composed of the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, Henry’s two intimates, and other lords, and it is even said that the earl of Wiltshire was present. The three gentlemen repelled the charge with unshakable firmness. ‘I would endure a thousand deaths,’ said Norris, ‘sooner than betray the innocent. I declare, upon my honor, that the queen is innocent, and am ready to support my testimony in arms against all the world.’ When this language of Henry VIII.’s favorite was reported to that prince, he cried out: ‘Hang him up, then — hang him up!’ The wretched musician alone confessed a crime which would give him a place in history. He did not reap the reward promised to his infamy. Perhaps it was imagined that his death would guarantee his silence, and that his punishment would corroborate his defamations. The three gentlemen were condemned to be beheaded, and the musician to be hanged.
Three days later (on May 15) the queen and her brother were taken before their peers in the great hall of the Tower, to which the Lord Mayor and a few aldermen and citizens alone were admitted. The duke of Norfolk had received orders to assemble a certain number of peers to form a court: they were twenty-six in all, and most of them enemies of Anne and of the Reformation. The earl of Wiltshire was not of the number, as Sanders pretends, The duke of Norfolk, the personal enemy of the unfortunate queen, that uncle who hated her as much as he should have loved her, had been appointed to select the judges and to preside over the trial: a circumstance indicative of the spirit in which it was to be conducted. Norfolk took his seat, having the lord-chancellor on his right and the duke of Suffolk on his left, and in front of him sat as deputymarshal the earl of Surrey, Norfolk’s son, an upright man, but a proud and warm supporter of Romanism. The queen was announced: she was received in deep silence. Before her went the governor of the Tower, behind her came Lady Kingston and Lady Boleyn. Anne advanced with dignity, adorned with the ensigns of royalty, and, after gracefully saluting the court, took her seat in the chair accorded either to her weakness or her rank. She had no defender; but the modesty of her countenance, the dignity of her manner, the peace of her conscience, which found expression in the serenity of her look, touched even her enemies. She appeared before the tribunal of men, thinking only of the tribunal of God; and, relying upon her innocence, she did not fear those whom but yesterday she had ruled as a queen. One might have said from the calmness and nobility of her deportment, so assured and so inajestic, that she was come, not to be tried as a criminal, but to receive the honors due to sovereigns. She was as firm, says a contemporary, as an oak that fears neither the hail nor the furious blasts of the wind. The court ordered the indictment to be read; it charged the queen with adultery, incest, and conspiracy against the king’s person. Anne held up her hand and pleaded ‘not guilty,’ and then refuted and tore to tatters, calmly yet forcibly, the accusations brought against her. Having an ‘excellent quick wit,’ and being a ready speaker, she did not utter a word that did not strike home, though full of moderation; but the tone of her voice, the calmness of her features, and the dignity of her countenance, pleaded more eloquently than her words. It was impossible to look at her or to hear her, and not declare her innocent, says an eye-witness. Accordingly there was a report in the Tower, and even in the city, that the queen had cleared herself by a most wise and noble speech and that she would be acquitted.
While Anne was speaking, the duke of Northumberland, who had once loved her and whom Henry had cruelly enrolled among the number of her judges, betrayed by his uneasy movements the agitation of his bosom.
Unable to endure the frightful torment any longer, he rose, pretending indisposition, and hastily left the hall before the fatal verdict was pronounced.
The king waited impatiently for the moment when he could introduce Jane Seymour into Anne Boleyn’s empty apartments. Unanimity of votes was not necessary in the House of Peers. In England, during the sixteenth century, there was pride in the people, but servility (with few exceptions) among the great. The axe that had severed the head of the venerable bishop of Rochester and of the ex-chancellor More, had taught a fearful lesson to all who might be disposed to resist the despotic desires of the prince. The court feared to confront the queen with the musician, the only witness against her, and declared her guilty without other formality. The incomprehensible facility with which the nobility were then accustomed to submit to the inflexible will of the monarch, could leave no room for doubt as to the catastrophe by which this tragedy would be terminated. The duke of Norfolk, as lord high-steward, pronounced sentence: that the queen should be taken back to the Tower, and there on the green should be burnt or beheaded, according to his majesty’s good pleasure . The court, desirous of leaving a little space for Henry’s compassion, left the mode of death to him: he might do the queen the favor of being only decapitated.
Anne heard this infamous doom with calmness. No change was observed in her features: the consciousness of innocence upheld her heart.
Clasping her hand and raising her eyes to heaven, she cried out, ‘O Father, O Creator! Thou who art the way, the truth, and the life, knowest that I have not deserved this death!’ Then, turning to her cruel uncle and the other lords, she said: ‘My lords, I do not say that my opinion ought to be preferred to your judgment; but if you have reasons to justify it, they must be other than those which have been produced in court, for I am wholly innocent of all the matters of which I have been accused, so that I cannot call upon God to pardon me. I have always been faithful to the king my lord; but perhaps I have not always shown to him such a perfect humility and reverence as his graciousness and courtesy deserved, and the honor he hath done me required. I confess that I have often had jealous fancies against him which I had not wisdom or strength enough to repress.
But God knows that I have not otherwise trespassed against him. Do not think I say this in the hope of prolonging my life, for He who saveth from death has taught me how to die, and will strengthen my faith. Think not, however, that I am so bewildered in mind that I do not care to vindicate my innocence. I knew that it would avail me little to defend it at the last moment, if I had not maintained it all my life long, as much as ever queen did. Still the last words of my mouth shall justify my honor. As for my brother and the other gentlemen who are unjustly condemned, I would willingly die to save them; but as that is not the kings pleasure, I shall accompany them in death. And then afterwards I shall live in eternal peace and joy without end, where I will pray to God for the king — and for you, my lords.’ The wisdom and eloquence of this speech, aided by the queen’s beauty and the touching expression of her voice, moved even her enemies. But Norfolk, determined upon carrying out his hateful task, ordered her to lay aside her royal insignia. She did so, and commending herself to all their prayers, returned to her prison.
Lord Rocheford now came forward and took his sister’s place. He was calm and firm, and answered every question point by point, with much clearness and decision. But it was useless for him to affirm the queen’s innocence — useless to declare that he had always respected her as a sister, as an ‘honored lady:’ he was condemned to be beheaded and quartered.
The court then broke up, and while the courtiers, who had just sealed with the blood of an innocent queen their servile submission to the most formidable of despots, were returning to their amusements and base flatteries, the Lord Mayor turned to a friend and said to him: ‘I can only observe one thing in this trial — the fixed resolution to get rid of the queen at any price.’ And that is the verdict of posterity.
The wretches who had entered into this iniquitous plot were eager to have it ended. On the 17th of May the gentlemen who were to be executed were brought together into a hall of the Tower. They embraced, commended each other to God, and prepared to depart. The Constable of the Tower, fearing that they would speak upon the scaffold, reminded them that the honor due to the king would not permit them to doubt the justice of their sentence. When they reached the place of punishment, Lord Rocheford, no longer able to keep silence, turned towards the spectators and said’ ‘My friends, I am going to die, as such is his majesty’s pleasure.
I do not complain of my death, for I have committed many sins during my life, but I have never injured the king. May God grant him a long and happy life!’ Then, according to the chronicler, he presented his head Au dur tranchant qui d ’un coup l ’emporta. Norris, Weston, and Brereton were beheaded after him.
The king, before putting his wife to death, desired to perform an act not less cruel: he was determined to annul his marriage with Anne, notwithstanding Northumberland’s denials. Did he wish to avoid the reproach of causing his wife to perish by the hands of the executioner? or, in a fit of anger, did he desire to strike the queen on all sides at once? We cannot tell. Be that as it may, the king in his wrath did not see that he was contradicting himself; that if there was no marriage between him and Anne, there could be no adultery, and that the sentence, based on this crime, was ex facto null. Cranmer, the most unfortunate, but perhaps not the least guilty of all the lords who lent themselves servilely to the despotic wishes of the prince — Cranmer believed (as it appears) that the position of the queen would thus become better; that her life would be saved, if she could no longer be regarded as having been Henry’s wife. This excuses, although slightly, his great weakness. He told the unhappy lady that he was commissioned to find the means of declaring null and void the ties which united her to the king. Anne, stunned by the sentence pronounced upon her, was also of opinion that it was an expedient invented by some relics of Henry’s regard, to rescue her from the bitterness of death. Her heart opened to hope, and imagining that she would only be sent into banishment, she formed a plan of returning to the continent. ‘I will go to Antwerp,’ she said at dinner, with an almost happy look. She knew that she would meet with protestants in that city, who would receive her with joy. But vain hope! In the very letter wherein the governor of the Tower reports this ingenuous remark of the queen, he asks for the kings orders as to the construction of the scaffold. Henry desired personally to order the arrangement of those planks which he was about to stain with innocent blood.
About nine o’clock in the forenoon of the 17th of May the lord-chancellor, the duke of Suffolk, the earl of Essex (Cromwell), the earl of Sussex, with several doctors and archdeacons entered the chapel at Lambeth. The archbishop having taken his seat, and the objections made against the marriage of Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn having been read, the proctors of the king and of the queen admitted them, and the primate declared the marriage to be null and void. The queen was not present, as some historians have thought.
On the very day of Anne Boleyn’s divorce, Da Casale, the English envoy at Rome, having heard of the queen’s imprisonment, hurried to the pontifical palace to inform Paul III. of the good news. ‘I have never ceased praying to heaven for this favor,’ said the pope with delight, ‘and I have always hoped for it. Now his majesty may accomplish an admirable work for the good of Christendom. Let the king become reconciled with Rome, and he will obtain from the king of France all that he can wish for.
Let us be friends. I will send him a nuncio for that purpose. When the news of cardinal Fisher’s death reached Rome,’ he continued, recollecting that terrible bull, ‘it is true I found myself driven to a measure somewhat severe... but I never intended to follow up my words by deeds.’ Thus, according to the pope and his adherents, the imprisonment of Anne Boleyn was to reconcile England and Rome. This fact points to one of the causes which made Norfolk and other catholics enter into the conspiracy against her.
On the same day also (17th of May), towards evening, the queen learnt that the sentence would assuredly be carried out. Although it was declared that she had never been the kings wife, the doom pronounced upon her for adultery must nevertheless be accomplished. This is what Henry VIII. called administering justice.
Anne desired to take the Lord’s Supper, and asked to be left alone. About two hours after midnight the chaplain arrived; but, before partaking of the holy rite, there was one thing she wished to do. One fault weighed heavily on her heart. She felt that she had sinned against queen Catherine by consenting to marry the king. Her conscience reproached her with having injured the princess Mary. It filled her with the deepest sorrow, and she was eager, before she died, to make reparation to the daughter of the woman whose place she had taken. Anne would have liked to see Mary, to fall a queen at her feet, and implore her pardon; but alas! she could not: she was only to leave the prison for the scaffold. Resolved, however, to confess her fault, she did so in a striking manner, which showed all the sincerity of her repentance and her firm determination to humble herself before Catherine’s daughter. She begged Lady Kingston, the wife of the constable of the Tower, who had little regard for her, to take her seat in the chair of state. When the latter objected, Anne compelled her, and kneeling before her, she said, all the while crying bitterly: ‘I charge you — as you would answer before God — to go in my name to the princess Mary, to fall down before her as I do now before you, and ask her forgiveness for all the wrongs I have done her. Until that, is done,’ she added, ‘my conscience will have no rest.’ At the moment when she was about to appear before the throne of God, she wished to make reparation for a fault that weighed heavily upon her heart. ‘In that,’ she said, ‘I wish to do what a Christian ought.’ This touching incident leads us to hope that if, during life, Anne was simply an honest protestant, trusting too much to her own works, the trial had borne fruit and had made her a true Christian. But of this she was to give a still more striking proof.
As she rose from her knees, Anne felt more calm and prepared to receive the sacrament. Before taking it, she once more declared her innocence of the crime imputed to her. The governor was present, and he did not fail to inform Cromwell of this declaration, made as it were in the presence of God. Anne had found in Christ’s death new strength to endure her own: she sighed after the moment that would put an end to her sorrows.
Contrary to her expectation, she was told that the execution was put off until the afternoon. ‘Mr. Kingston,’ she said, ‘I hear that I am not to die this afternoon, and I am very sorry for it; for I thought by this time to be dead and past my pain.’ — ‘Madam,’ replied the governor, ‘you will feel no pain, the blow will be so sharp and swift.’ ‘Yes,’ resumed Anne, ‘I have heard say that the headsman is very clever,’ and then she added: ‘and I have but a little neck,’ putting her hand about it and smiling. Kingston left the room.
Meanwhile the devout adherents of the Roman primacy were full of exultation, and allowed the hopes to appear which Anne’s death raised in their bosoms. ‘Sire,’ they told the king, ‘the tapers placed round the tomb of queen Catherine suddenly burst into flame of their own accord.’ They concluded, froth this prodigy, that Roman-catholicism was once more about to shed its light on England. The priests were eager to chant their Deo gratias, and a report was circulated that this new victory over the Reformation was going to be inaugurated by hanging a group of heretics along with Anne. Neither friends nor enemies drew any real distinction between the cause of Anne and the cause of protestantism; and many evangelical Christians, imagining that when Anne was dead there would be no one to protect them any longer, prepared to quit the kingdom.
Henry, however, keenly desiring to have if it were but one word from Anne that would exculpate him, sent some one to her with a commission to sound her, and to discover whether the hope of escaping death would not induce her to satisfy him. Anne replied, and they were the last words she addressed to the king: ‘Commend me to his majesty, and tell him that he has ever been constant in his career of advancing me. From a private gentlewoman he made me a marchioness, from a marchioness a queen; and now that he has no higher degree of honor left, he gives my innocence the crown of martyrdom.’ The gentleman went and reported this noble farewell to his master. Even the jailer bore testimony to the peace and joy which filled Anne Boleyn’s heart at this solemn moment. ‘I have seen men and also women executed,’ wrote Kingston to Cromwell, ‘and they have been in great sorrow; but to my knowledge this lady has much joy and pleasure in death.’ Everything was arranged so that the murder should be perpetrated without publicity and without disturbance. Kingston received orders to turn all strangers out of the Tower, and readily obeyed. About eleven in the forenoon of the 19th of May, the dukes of Suffolk and Richmond, the lord-chancellor, Cromwell, the lord-mayor with the sheriffs and aldermen, entered the Tower, and took their stations on the green, where the instrument of punishment had been erected. The executioner, whom Henry had summoned from Calais, was there with his axe and his attendants. A cannon, mounted on the walls, was to announce both to king and people that all was over. A little past noon Anne appeared, dressed in a robe of black damask, and attended by four of her maids of honor. She walked up to the block on which she was to lay her head. Her step was firm, her looks calm; all indicated the most complete resignation. She was then thirty years old, and ‘never had she looked so beautiful before,’ says a French contemporary, then in London. Her eyes expressed a meek submission; a pleasing smile accompanied the look she turned on the spectators of this tragic scene, But just when the executioners had made the last preparations, her emotion was so keen that she nearly fainted. Gradually she recovered her strength, and her faith in the Savior filled her with courage and hope.
It is important to know what, in this last and solemn moment, were her sentiments towards the king. She had desired that Mary should be asked to forgive her wrongs: it was her duty, if she died a Christian, also to pardon Henry’s faults. She must obey her Savior, who said · ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you. ’ She had pardoned everything; but it was her duty to declare it before she died, and if she was humble, she would do so without affectation. Addressing those who had been her subjects and were then standing round her, she said: ‘Good Christian people, I am not come here to justify myself; I leave my justification entirely to Christ, in whom I put my trust. I will accuse no man, nor speak anything of that whereof I am accused, as I know full well that aught that I could say in my defense doth not appertain unto you, and that I could draw no hope of life from the same. I come here only to die, according as I have been condemned. I commend my judges to the Lord’s mercy. I pray God (and I beg you to do the same) to save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler or more merciful prince there never was. To me he was ever a good, gentle, and sovereign lord. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.
O Lord, have mercy upon me! To God I commit my soul!’ Such are the simple words in which Anne gave utterance to the feelings of peace with which her heart was filled towards her husband, at the moment when he was robbing her of life. Had she said that she forgave him, she would have called up the memory of the kings crime, and would thus have appeared to claim the merit of her generous pardon. She did nothing of the sort. During one part of their wedded life, Henry had been a ‘good lord’ to her. She desired to recall the good only, and buried the evil in oblivion. She did so without any thought of self; for she knew that before the gracious words could reach the kings ears, the axe would have already fallen upon her, and it would be impossible for Henry to arrest the fatal blow.
This Christian discourse could not fail to make a deep impression on all who heard her. As they looked at the unfortunate queen, they felt the tenderest compassion and the sharpest pain. The firmer her heart became, the weaker grew the spectators of the tragedy. Ere long they were unable to check the tears which the sufferer had the strength to restrain. One of the ladies of the royal victim approached her to cover her eyes; but Anne refused, saying that she was not afraid of death, and gave her as a memorial of that hour, a little manuscript prayer-book that she had brought with her.
The queen then removed her white collar and took off her hood, that the action of the axe might not be impeded; this head-dress formed a queue and hung down behind. Then falling on her knees, she remained a few moments silent and motionless, praying inwardly. On rising up, she approached the fatal block, and laid her head on it: ‘O Christ, into thy hands I commit my soul!’ she exclaimed. The headsman, disturbed by the mild expression of her face, hesitated a few seconds, but his courage returned. Anne cried out again: ‘O Jesus, receive my soul!’ At this instant the axe of the executioner flashed in the air and her head fell. A cry escaped from the lips of the spectators, ‘as if they had received the blow upon their own necks.’ This is honorable to Anne’s enemies, so that we may well believe the evidence. But immediately another sound was heard: the gunner, placed as a signal-man on the wall, had watched the different phases of the scene, holding a lighted match in his hand; scarcely had the head fallen, when he fired the gun, and the report, which was heard at a distance, bore to Henry the news of the crime which gave him Jane Seymour. The ladies of queen Anne, though almost lifeless with terror, would not permit the noble remains of the mistress, whom they had loved so much, to be touched by rude hands; they gathered around the body, wrapped it in a white sheet, and carried it (almost fainting as they were) to an old elm chest, which had been brought out of the arsenal and had been used for storing arrows. This rough box was the last home assigned to her who had inhabited costly palaces, not so much as a coffin had been provided for her. The ladies placed in it Anne’s head and body; ‘the eyes and lips were observed to move,’ says a document, as if her mouth was repeating the last words it had uttered. She was immediately buried in the Tower chapel.’ Thus died Anne Boleyn. If the violent passions of a prince and the meanness of his courtiers brought her to an untimely death, hatred and credulity have killed her a second time. But an infamous calumny, forged by dishonest individuals, ought to be sternly rejected by all sensible men.
Not in vain did Anne, at the hour of death, place her cause in the hands of God, and we willingly believe that all enlightened men, without prejudice or partiality, among Roman-catholics as among others, turn with disgust from the vile falsehoods of malicious courtiers and the deceitful fables of the papist Sanders and his followers.
On the morning of this day, Henry VIII. had dressed himself in white, as for a festival, and ordered a hunting-party. There was a great stir round the palace; huntsmen hurrying to and fro, dogs baying, horns sounding, nobles arriving. The troop was formed and they all set off for Epping Forest, where the sport began. At noon the hunters met to repose themselves under an oak which still bears the name of the Kings Oak . Henry had taken his seat beneath it, surrounded by his suite and the dogs; he listened and seemed to be agitated. Suddenly a cannon shot resounded through the forest — it was the concerted signal — the queen’s head had fallen. ‘Ha, ha!’ exclaimed the king, rising, ‘the deed is done! uncouple the hounds and away’ Horns and trumpets were sounded, and dogs and horses were soon in pursuit. The wretched prince, led away by his passions, forgot that there is a God to whom he would have to render an account not only of the execution in the Tower, but of the chase in the forest; and by these cruel acts, which should have shocked the hearts even of his courtiers, he branded himself with his own hands as a great criminal. The king and his court returned to the palace before night-fall.
At last Henry was free. He had desired Jane Seymour, and everything had been invented — adultery — incest to break the bonds that united him to the queen. The proofs of Anne’s crimes failing, the ferocious acts of the king were to supply their place. Could those who witnessed the cruelty of the husband venture to doubt the guilt of the wife? Henry had become inhuman that he might not appear faithless. Now that the object was obtained, it only remained to profit by his crime. His impatience to gratify his passions made him brave all propriety. The mournful death of his queen; the Christian words that she had uttered, kissing as it were the cruel hand that struck her — nothing softened that man’s heart, and the very next day he married the youthful maid of honor. It would have been difficult to say in a more striking manner: ‘This is why Anne Boleyn is no more!’ When we see side by side the blood-stained block on which Anne had received her death-blow, and the brilliant altar before which Henry and Jane were united, we all understand the story. The prince, at once voluptuous and cruel, liked to combine the most contrary objects in the same picture — crime and festivities, marriage and death, sensuality and hatred. He showed himself the most magnificent and most civilized monarch of Europe; but also the rival of those barbarous kings of savage hordes who take delight in cutting off the heads of those who have been their favorites and even the objects of their most passionate love. We must employ different standards in judging of the same person, when we regard him as a private and as a public individual. The Tudor prince, so guilty as a husband, father, and friend, did much good as a ruler for England. Louis XIV., as well as Henry VIII., had some of the characteristics of a great king; and his moral life was certainly not better than that of his prototype in England. He had as many, and even more mistresses than the predecessor of the Stuarts had wives; but the only advantage which the French monarch had over the English one, is that he knew how to get rid of them without cutting off their heads.
The death of Anne Boleyn caused a great sensation in Europe, as that of Fisher and More had done before it. Her innocence, which Henry (it is said) acknowledged on his death-bed, was denied by some and maintained by others; but all men of principle expressed a feeling of horror when they heard of her punishment. The protestant princes and divines of Germany had not a doubt that this cruel act was the pledge of reconciliation offered to the pope by Henry VIII., and renounced the alliance they were on the point of concluding with England. ‘At last I am free from that journey,’ said Melanchthon, whom Anne Boleyn’s death, added to that of Sir Thomas More, had rendered even less desirous of approaching the prince who had struck them. ‘The queen,’ he continued, ‘accused, rather than convicted, of adultery, has suffered the penalty of death, and that catastrophe has wrought great changes in our plans.’ Somewhat later the protestants ascribed Anne’s death especially to the pope: ‘That blow came from Rome,’ they cried; ‘in Rome all these tricks and plots are contrived. Even Petrarch had long since called that city Nido di tradimenti, in cui si cuova Quanto mal per lo mondo hoggi si spande. ’ In this I suspect there is a mistake. The plots of the Roman court against Elizabeth have caused it to be accused of similar designs against the mother of the great protestant queen. The friends of that court in England were probably no strangers to the crime, but the great criminal was Henry.