On this day in history….15th May 1536

On this day in history : 15th May 1536 – The trial of Anne Boleyn takes place; she is accused of adultery, incest and plotting to kill her husband, King Henry VIII….

Anne Boleyn, unknown artist – Public domain

Henry had gone to great lengths to make Anne his wife, having made himself the head of the English Church in order to obtain a divorce from his first wife, Katherine of Aragon…. Now Anne had fallen from favour – she had failed to provide a male heir and after suffering a second miscarriage in January 1536 Henry was beginning to look elsewhere – and needed to find a way to end his second marriage….

What better way than to cite adultery – an act that would have been regarded as treason…. He enlisted the help of his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell – who detested Anne…. An enquiry was made into Anne’s behaviour – both her personal and sexual conduct….she had never been a popular Queen and several accusations were brought against her….

A commission was established to investigate the rumours and on the 2nd of May 1536 Anne was arrested, accused of committing adultery with five men – one of them her own brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochfield…. It was claimed she’d had intimate relations with him on the 2nd of November and 22nd & 29th of December 1535…. Also named were four members of Henry’s Court whom she had supposedly slept with: Henry Norris, on the 12th & 19th of November 1533; Sir William Bremerton, the 16th & 27th of November and 3rd & 8th of December 1533; Sir Francis Weston, the 8th & 20th of May and 6th & 20th of June 1534; and Mark Smeaton, a musician of the Court, on the 13th & 19th of May 1534…. If that sounds excessive, Henry actually believed she’d had over 100 lovers…. No doubt this was all lies fabricated by Thomas Cromwell….

Thomas Cromwell – Hans Holbein, Public domain

On the 12th of May 1536 Smeaton, Norris, Bremerton and Weston were brought to trial… Cracking under the strain Smeaton admitted guilt but the others all protested their innocence…. To add to their plight all of the men, with the exception of Norris, were also accused of sodomy…. The four were found guilty of all charges and executed at Tyburn on the 17th of May….

Anne and her brother were brought to trial at King’s Hall, the Tower of London on the 15th of May….the trial was presided over by her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk…. Despite having alibis for at least twelve of the occasions on which she had been accused her pleas fell on deaf ears…. The court was obsessed with ‘her frail and carnal sexual appetites’….

In addition to the charges of adultery and incest Anne was accused of plotting the death of Henry with her ‘lovers’…. It was claimed she intended to marry one of the traitors after his demise….

Anne Boleyn in the Tower by Edouard Cibot – Public domain

Both Anne and her brother were found guilty….George Boleyn was executed along with the other men two days later…. Anne herself was executed four days after the trial…. All were victims of Thomas Cromwell’s fiction….but as they say ‘what goes around, comes around’…. Thomas Cromwell was himself beheaded just four years later….

On this day in history….13th January 1547

On this day in history : 13th January 1547 – Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey – courtier, soldier and poet – is found guilty of treason and is sentenced to death….

Born around 1517 in Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, Surrey was the eldest son of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard….and was descended from Royalty on both sides of his family…. It was upon the death of his grandfather, the 2nd Duke of Norfolk in 1524, that he gained the title of Earl of Surrey….

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey – Artist : Hans Holbein the Younger

Surrey was a bright child; at the age of 12 he could translate Latin, Italian, French and Spanish – his father made sure he had the best education…. It was around this time he became companion to Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond – who was the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII…. The two boys spent their time at Windsor and became close friends….Surrey was even considered as a potential husband for the King’s daughter, Mary (later to become Queen Mary I) ~ a suggestion put forward by Surrey’s first cousin, Anne Boleyn….

In 1532 Surrey and Richmond accompanied King Henry to the court of King Francis I of France – and the pair of young men ended up staying in the French court for almost a year…. Here they gained cultural graces – and it is possible that it was when Surrey developed his passion for poetry….as he became acquainted with the work of Luigi Alamanni – Italian poet and statesman….

Surrey and Richmond returned to England in 1533 – and within a short time both were to be married – Richmond to Surrey’s sister, Mary – and Surrey himself to Lady Frances de Vere, daughter of the 15th Earl of Oxford…. However, Surrey and his new bride did not actually live together as man and wife until 1535 – on account of their young age…. They went on to have five children, two sons and three daughters….

Frances de Vere by Hans Holbein the Younger C.1535 – public domain

1536 proved to be a turbulent year for Surrey; it was the year his first child was born, a son – but other events were not nearly as happy…. His cousin Anne Boleyn was executed – and his beloved friend Henry Fitzroy died, aged just 17…. In October 1536 Surrey served alongside his father to quash the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ – a rebellion protesting against King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries…. Surrey was a good soldier – and his family had a long history of loyalty to the Tudors….

By all accounts Surrey was an arrogant, vain, boorish, reckless, rash and ambitious man….with a contempt for the lower class of nobility – the ‘new men’ of the court – the likes of Thomas Cromwell and the Seymours, a family who were old rivals of the Howards’…. Surrey was a dashing and formidable character and although he had his enemies within the court, he also had plenty of friends….but his vanity and reckless ways were to eventually contribute to his downfall….

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey – 1546 Painting attributed to William Scrots

His troubles really began when Jane Seymour became King Henry’s Queen…. Surrey had always been popular with the King in the past – but his popularity declined as the Seymours rose is favour after the marriage…. The Seymour family began to scheme….in 1537 they accused the Howards of sympathising with the Pilgrimage of Grace…. An unwitting courtier happened to repeat the slander in court – Surrey reacted in his typical hot-headed way – by striking his fellow courtier….an action that landed him in imprisonment…. It was whilst confined in Windsor, by order of the privy council, that he penned one of his most well-known poems – ‘Prisoned in Windsor’ – in which he recounts his childhood days….

Surrey – (along with fellow poet and friend, Thomas Wyatt) – was responsible for the introduction of the sonnet to English poetry…. He has to be noted as one of the founders of English Renaissance Poetry and for his contribution to English literature…. Without his input the works of the likes of William Shakespeare would have undoubtedly been very different to how we know them – for it was Surrey who gave the rhyming meter and division into quatrains that gives us the Shakespearean sonnet…. Surrey was also the first poet to publish blank verse – regular metrical but un-rhyming lines…. Much of Surrey’s poetry would likely have been written during the two years he was held at Windsor….

By the 1540s he was back in favour at court….and was made a Knight of the Garter in May 1541 – and received the honour of Steward of the University of Cambridge…. But he was not to mellow – he still had his hot-headed moments and outbursts…. In 1542 he was imprisoned after quarrelling with another courtier….and again in 1543 after going on a drunken rampage – smashing windows in a London street…. It was during this particular stay in prison that he composed his ‘Satire against the Citizens of London:London, hast thou accused me’….

King Henry’s health was failing – and he began to view Surrey – with his powerful family connections – as a real threat, some would say to the point of paranoia…. He became convinced Surrey was going to attempt to usurp the crown from Prince Edward, his son and heir…. Things came to a head when Surrey foolishly incorporated Royal arms and insignia into his own heraldry – to prove a point as to his own Royal descent….

The arms for which Surrey was attainted (Edward the Confessor’s arms are in the fifth quarter with a label of three points plain…. Silver&Gold CC BY SA 4.0

Surrey – and his father – were arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London, on the charge of treason…. On the 13th of January 1547 they were found guilty and sentenced to death…. Surrey put up a spirited defence at his trial (which lasted a day) – but to no avail…. Several other claims were brought against him, such as being a secret papist….there was no real evidence to any of the charges – but he was still condemned….

Surrey was beheaded on the 19th of January – on Tower Hill…. His father was more fortunate; King Henry VIII died before the scheduled execution and the Duke of Norfolk was pardoned and released by Queen Mary I….

Surrey was buried at All Hallows’ Church in Barking…. However, in 1614 his second son, Henry, Earl of Northampton had his father’s remains moved to St. Michael’s at Framlingham, Suffolk – the family church…. Surrey was laid to his final rest in a magnificent tomb….

Image credit : Steve Parker via Flickr

His poetry, although circulated at court, only became really known 10 years after his death…. Printer Richard Tottel published ‘Songs and Sonnets written by the Right Honourable Lord Henry Howard late Earl of Surrey and other’ – (now generally known as ‘Tottel’s Miscellany’) – a collection of 271 poems – 40 of which are by Surrey and 96 by Thomas Wyatt….

Alas! so all things now do hold their peace,
Heaven and earth disturbed in no thing.
The beasts, the air, the birds their song do cease,
The nightes car the stars about doth bring.
Calm is the sea, the waves work less and less:
So am not I, whom love, alas, doth wring,
Bringing before my face the great increase
Of my desires, whereat I weep and sing
In joy and woe, as in a doubtful ease.
For my sweet thoughts sometime do pleasure bring,
But by and by the cause of my disease
Gives me a pang that inwardly doth sting,
When that I think what grief it is again
To live and lack the thing should rid my pain.
                               - Henry Howard
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey National Portrait Gallery

On this day in history….6th January 1540

On this day in history : 6th January 1540 – King Henry VIII marries Anne of Cleves….a disastrous union from the start….and one that was to last just a few months….

Henry had always preferred to choose his own wives…. It was shortly after the death of his third wife, Jane Seymour, that the suggestion was made that an alliance with the House of Cleves would be a good proposition. It was at a time when Henry needed new allies in Europe – two of his greatest rivals, the Holy Emperor Charles V and King Francis I of France had forged a treaty…. Henry, having made himself head of the Church of England had expelled Catholicism – and certainly had no friend in the Pope….which gave him common ground with the Duke of Juliers-Cleves, who had also broken all ties with the Catholic Church in his domain…. An alliance would have suited them both….and Henry would have gained political power in Europe…. His chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, was particularly keen on the idea as it would have strengthened the Reformation in England…. All Henry had to do was marry one of the Duke’s daughters – besides he desired another heir….

Crowell praised Anne’s reputed beauty to reassure Henry – but he needed more convincing…. Therefore, Hans Holbein the Younger, a renowned German painter and printmaker was commissioned to paint portraits of Anne and her sister Amalia….Henry required the portraits to be as accurate as possible; the artist was not to ‘flatter’ his subjects – they had to be true to life, as Henry was going to use the likenesses to determine which of the sisters were to become his wife….


Henry was delighted when he saw the portrait of Anne….and was finally persuaded to agree to a betrothal….and so Anne began her journey to England – to become Queen….

Anne was born on the 22nd of September 1515, in Düsseldorf…. Henry liked his women to be well-educated and to be culturally sophisticated…. Anne was neither of these, she had received little education – she could read and write but only in German – however, she was accomplished in needlework….

Anne was 24-years-old when she arrived on British soil – her husband-to-be twice her age…. On route to London Anne and her escort party rested at Rochester Castle….she was expecting to meet her future husband for the first time at Greenwich, where the wedding ceremony was to take place…. However, in the English court there was a tradition, that was essentially meant to be a bit of fun, before a betrothed couple ‘officially’ met….and King Henry was quite the traditionalist….

Anne had retired to her chamber – when Henry in disguise and accompanied by five of his friends, made a surprise visit to her…. He embraced her, brazenly gave her a kiss and presented her with a New Year’s gift…. Anne, who knew nothing of this custom, must have been a little ‘taken aback’…. She was polite but cool….

Henry was slightly affronted – but as he had been in disguise and they had not even met before – he assumed she had not recognised him and so gave her the benefit of the doubt…. He dined with her that evening and again the following morning – having revealed his true identity…. But the ‘spark’ was not there – there was no chemistry between them – they were so different in culture and didn’t even speak the same language…. Henry later complained Anne looked nothing like her portrait, he did little to hide his disappointment….

Henry tried to get the wedding stopped….he wanted to ‘call the whole thing off’ – but this would have caused a major diplomatic incident….he had to go through with it – and he was furious….

Henry and Anne were married on the 6th of January 1540 at the Palace of Placentia, Greenwich, London – in a ceremony conducted by Archbishop Thomas Crammer….and then, of course, followed the wedding night….

She was young, 24, innocent, unworldly…. He was impatient, twice her age, grossly overweight and increasingly immobile after a jousting injury…. After four nights of trying to do what was required of him – and failing miserably – he attempted to save his pride by blaming her ‘ugliness’ and physical repulsiveness…. He confided to his man-servant that she was “indisposed to excite and provoke any lust” and that he “could never be stirred to know her carnally” and that he “left her as good a maid as I found her”…. More likely he was impotent – perhaps confirmed by the fact he had not taken a mistress for a while….most unlike Henry….

By Hans Holbein the Younger – public domain

Their marriage was never consummated…. For six months they endured each other’s company….publicly putting on ‘a brave face’ – but by the spring of 1540 Henry had fallen in love with Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Catherine Howard….

On the 24th of June 1540 Anne was ordered to leave court and on the 6th of July was informed of her husband’s intent to have the marriage annulled…. She did not make a fuss….

But there is a twist….one that would perhaps deem Anne the most successful of Henry’s six wives….

It seems that over the six months of their marriage they had actually come to quite like one another….and had come to refer to each other as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’….

On the day the annulment was announced Henry wrote to her…. “You shall find us a perfect friend, content to repute you as our dearest sister. We shall, within five or six days….determine your state minding to endow you with £4,000 of yearly revenue…. Your loving brother and friend…. Henry”….

Anne was given not only a generous annual allowance but property too….namely Richmond Palace and Hever Castle in Kent – she also owned Anne of Cleves House in Lewes, East Sussex….


Henry went on to marry Catherine Howard – but Anne was still very much included in the family – often being invited to court and even spending the Christmas period….

Anne outlived Henry by nearly ten years – and also outlived all of his other five wives…. She was remembered by those who had served her as being generous and easy-going…. She died in 1557, eight weeks before her 42nd birthday, probably from cancer…. She was buried in Westminster Abbey on the 3rd of August 1557….

Engraving by J.C. Buttre – public domain