« AnteriorContinuar »
BORN A. D. 1507.-DIED A, D. 1536.
This unfortunate princess was born in 1507. Her father was Sir Thomas Boleyn, afterwards created earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde, and her mother was daughter of the duke of Norfolk. At the age of seven or eight, she accompanied Mary, Henry's sister, to France, at the time when that princess became the wife of Louis XII. After Mary's return to England, Anne remained in France, as an attendant on Claude, the queen of Francis I. and she is said to have lived thereafter with the duchess of Alençon. The precise date of her final return to England is uncertain. Burnet supposes that she came back with her father in 1527. In England she became a maid of honour to queen Catharine, in which situation she seems to have been free from gross outward impropriety of conduct. “ She carried herself so,” says Burnet, speaking of this period of her life, “that, in the whole progress of the suit”this refers to the action of divorce from Catharine—“I never find the queen herself or any of her agents fix the least ill character on her, which would most certainly bave been done had there been any just cause or good colour for it.” During her residence at court, she attracted the attention of Lord Percy, son of the earl of Northumberland, and a page in the household of Cardinal Wolsey. Accordingly, a marriage between Anne and Lord Percy was proposed, but the cardinal and the king himself objected to the match. Considering the future history of Henry, it is natural to infer from his objecting to the marriage of the noble youth, that his own attachment to the young and beautiful maid of honour had begun; and from a confession of the king himself, an excellent historian has traced that attachment to the year 1527.2 Accordingly we find that in May of that year she was his partner in the dance, at a royal entertainment given at Greenwich. It was in the July immediately succeeding, that Knight was sent to Rome, with a view to a divorce from Catharine. While the tedious process for obtaining that object was proceeding, Anne was considered as a favourite, if not as a mistress, of the king; and few, perhaps, if any, will doubt, that his attachment to the maiden, whose external charms may be allowed—without derogating from the virtuous character of Catharineto have been greatly superior to the queen's, fostered, or at least accompanied his scruples respecting the validity of his marriage, supposing these to be sincere. As to the particular manner, however, in which his passion influenced his mind in his attempt to have the marriage nullified, there may be room for question. Sir James Mackintosh seems to think, that the only conceivable reason for Henry's perseverance in that long and tedious process, is, the refusal of Anne Boleyn to gratify his desire on any other terms than those of an authorized marriage. To us, however, it appears, that, independently of such resistance on the part of Anne, the scholastic scruples and headstrong spirit of the king might go far to explain his perseverance in his suit for a divorce. But that she did hold out against the unlawful gratification of his desires, seems generally admitted, even among those who may doubt whether she did not yield previously to her private marriage with the king in 1533—a question which, like many others, it is now, perhaps, impossible to settle. One of her biographers represents it as questionable whether she would not have been less guilty in becoming Henry's concubine, than in causing the degradation of the virtuous Catharine. But whether she was influenced in the desire which she seems to have felt for the king's divorce, by her judgment on the moral questions it involved, or whether she was not prompted merely by the prospects of ambition and the blandishinents of love, are points perhaps no longer ascertainable. That she heartily entered, however, into Henry's scheme, or at least felt a personal interest in the result, it may be safely inferred from a letter addressed by her and the king conjointly to Cardinal Wolsey.
' History of the Reformation, Book ii. The same author has largely refuted, in regard to Anne Boleyn, an old historian, Sanders, by whom she is represented as the daughter of Henry VIII. himself by the lady of Sir Thomas Boleyn, and as very dissolute in the early period of her life. Sanders seems to have aimed at blackening the character of Anne, under the influence of party-feeling.
* Sir J. Mackintosh, History of England, vol. ii. p. 191. “He reproaches her,” says the historian, speaking of Henry and Anne," for cruelty to one who was one whole year struck with the dart of love,' which fixes the commencement of his passion in 1527.'
At length, after a protracted suit for a divorce, and before he had obtained it, the king was privately married to Anne Boleyn, who had previously been created marchioness of Pembroke.
The marriage tock place, by one account, on the 14th of November, 1532, by another, about the 25th of January, 1533. Dr Lee is said to have performed the ceremony, in presence of Lord and Lady Wiltshire and other friends. In May thereafter, Archbishop Cranmer pronounced the king's marriage with Catharine invalid, and on the 1st of June, Anne was crowned. “ Which mass and ceremonies done,” says Cranmer, speaking of this occasion, “all the assembly of noblemen brought her into Westminster-hall again, where was kept a great solemn feast all that day; the good order thereof were too long to write at this time to you.
now, Sir, you must not imagine that this coronation was before her marriage; for she was married much about St Paul's day last, as the condition thereof doth well appear by reason she is now somewhat big with child. Notwithstanding, it hath been reported throughout a great part of the realm that I married her, which was plainly false, for myself knew not thereof a fortnight after it was done. And
many other things be also reported of me, which be mere lies and tales."'5
On the 7th of September, Anne was delivered of a daughter-afterwards the illustrious queen Elizabeth. But from the height of her greatness, a few intermediate notices of her life will bring us to the circumstances of its melancholy close. That she joined her husband in his support of religious reformation there cannot be a doubt; nor, on the other hand, can we deny, that, in the earlier part of her residence at court she conformed to the Romish church. It has been represented
: Life of Sir Thomas More, in Lives of British Statesmen (Lardner's Cabinet Cye clopædia), vol. i. p. 77.
• Female Biography, by Mary Hays, vol. ii. p. 10. 5 Original Letters, illustrative of English History, edited by Mr Ellis, 1st Series.
as no very uncharitable way of accounting for her renunciation of the authority of Rome, to consider it as resulting from a belief that it would clear for her a passage to the throne. It might seem almost unnatural to suppose, that this consideration, and a prudent or somewuat careless subservience to the will of Henry, had no influence in determining her profession and her creed; but, it is also to be considered, that the question of ecclesiastical authority became, about the time of her marriage, a subject of learned and general debate, so that a mind even moderately free from Romish bigotry, might be led to a change of opinion on the subject.6 It is remarked, too, by Bishop Burnet, that she received impressions in favour of Protestantism during her residence with the duchess of Alençon. She chose Staunton and Latimer as chaplains; and to her influence has been attributed the choice of Henry to have the Bible translated into English, and also an attempt which was made to accommodate the differences with foreign Protestants. She also seems to have been of a kind disposition. It is said that, in the course of nine months, she bestowed upwards of £14,000 in charity ; and, in a statute granting pardon to persons not included in the act of attainder, for concealment and misprision in the matter of the maid of Kent, the king is represented as bestowing it “at the humble suit of his well-beloved wife, Queen Anne."
Two eminent official characters—Fisher, bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More-fell victims to their refusal to take the oath relative to the new succession to the crown. The latter had set himself decidedly against the marriage of the king with Anne, and had cautioned the bishops against attending at her coronation. But, when in prison, and shortly before his execution, which occurred early in July, 1535, his amiable heart seemed to think of her with pity. He asked of his daughter, Margaret Roper, how the new queen was. “ Never better,” she replied. “Never better, Meg!" said More, “Alas! it pitieth me to remember into what misery, poor soul, she shall shortly come.” The prediction was fulfilled and in a manner of which she seems to have little thought, when she gave signs of satisfaction on occasion of Catharine's death, in January, 1536. That year, Anne was delivered of a still-born son. To this circumstance a change in Henry's affection has been ascribed—a change which was encouraged by her enemies of the Romish church. On the 24th of April, there was issued a commission to certain noblemen and judges, to inquire into allegations which had been raised against her: and, according to a popular story, at a tilting held at Greenwich on the 1st of May, a handkerchief dropped by the queen, and picked up and returned to her by Henry
• See a summary of arguments on both sides of the question between the king and the pope in reference to ecclesiastical supremacy, and a representation of the successive steps by which the power of the latter came to be called in question, in Burnet's' History of the Reformation. It is not impossible that Henry himself was in some degree influenced by the arguments adduced in support of the civil magistrate, on the subject of ecclesiastical authority-an idea not inconsistent with the belie that there is truth in the pointed, but somewhat indecorous line of Gray :
" And Gospel light first beamed from Bullen's eyes." ?" Anne Boleyn," says he, Hist. of Reform.' “had, in the duchess of Alencon's court, (who inclined to the reformation), received such impressions as made them"members of one of the English universities—" fear that her greatness and Cranmer's preferment, would encourage heresy, to which the universities were furiously averse."
Norris, stirred the mind of Henry, who forthwith left the hall, and ordered Anne to be confined to her own apartments. At first she was cheerful, observing, that she thought the king merely meant to try her, but at length, considering the matter as serious, she begged that she might partake of the sacrament. On the 2d of May, her relative, the duke of Norfolk, conveyed her to the tower. On landing, she declared her innocence of what was alleged against her; and, on hearing that she was to take up her residence in that part of the tower where she lay at the time of her coronation, she exclaimed, “It is too good for me! Jesus have mercy upon me!” In her imprisonment, she was attended by her uncle's wife, lady Boleyn, with whom she had lived on by no means friendly terms. Words that she uttered in what seemed a state of hysterical excitement were reported, and she was cross-examined as to what she had said. Hearing that Norris, and a musician of the name of Smeaton, had accused her of guilt, she exclaimed, “O Norris ! hast thou accused me? Thou art in the tower with me, and we shall die together, and thou too, Mark!” She acknowledged that certain free expressions had passed between herself and Norris, Smeaton, and an individual of the name of Weston. Confessions which a milder judge might have deemed a candid or an extorted acknowledgment of such levity as was natural to a rash and lively woman, though no unfaithful and undutiful wife, were not unlikely to be viewed, by Henry and the enemies of Anne, with a harsh and suspicious eye. She declared, however, to the lieutenant of the tower, that she was
« clear from the company of men,” and “the king's true wife.”
From the tower, the queen was conveyed back to Greenwich, where she was examined before the privy council. On her return, she complained that she had “ been cruelly handled by the council.” On the 10th of May, an indictment for high treason was found against her, Lord Rochford, Norris, Smeaton, Weston, and a gentleman of the privy-chamber, of the name of Brereton. On the 12th, the four last mentioned of these persons were tried, and condemned. All of them, except Smeaton, denied to the last. He acknowledged unlawful intercourse with the queen; but of the circumstances in which the confession was made, we are in a great measure ignorant; a circumstance suggested by a historian, to which, for the sake of historical justice, it is important to advert. On the 15th, the queen, and Lord Rochford, her brother, who, it appears, had been seen leaning on her bed, were tried within the tower, whether for the concealment of injustice, or from motives of delicacy, or for some other reason, we shall not decide. After the trial of her brother, Anne came forward to the bar without the attendance of any legal advisers. She appeared as her own advocate, and it was remarked that she delivered “a most noble speech.” We know not that there is any account, at once copious and authentic, of the trial. It appears, however, that Smeaton, who had been previously convicted, was not confronted with the queen on this occasion; and “ for the evidence," says an old writer, “as I never could hear of any, small I believe it is." Sentence of death was pronounced against her, and, on the 17th, she was conveyed to Lambeth, where Cranmer pronounced her marriage with Henry null, setting forth, that she had confessed “ certain, just, and lawful impediments,” which rendered it “ utterly void” from the very first. What these alleged “ impediments” were, seems a point by no means certain. The objection has been supposed to be a contract between Anne and Lord Percy, now earl of Northumberland, entered into before her marriage with the king. Percy had spoken to Wolsey as if he had given her a pledge from which it would have been unsafe or dishonourable in him to withdraw; but in a letter, dated a few days before the trial of the queen, he says that he had solemnly disclaimed having entered into such a contract. But whatever the impediments may have been, it is not without reason that Burnet represents the sentence at the trial and the decision of the prelate, as somewhat inconsistent with each other. “Her marriage to the king,” says he," “ was either a true marriage or not. If it was true, then the annulling of it was unjust; and if it was no true marriage, then the attainder was unjust; for there could be no breach of that faith which was never given.”
After her condemnation, the queen possessed an air of cheerfulness and even gaiety. Her tranquillity and satisfaction in prospect of death have, not without reason, been suggested as an evidence of innocence. “ I hear I shall not die before noon,” said she, on the day of her death, to the lieutenant of the tower; “ I am sorry for it, for I thought to be dead by this time, and past my pain.” He told her there should be no pain. “ I heard say,” said she, “ that the executioner brought over was more expert than any in England. That is very good, for I have a little neck," putting her hands around it, and laughing heartily. On the last day of her life, she again affirmed her innocence, and, after stating that, in prospect of her approaching death, the queen, remembering her severity towards the Lady Mary, besought the wife of the lieutenant of the tower, to go, in her name, to the princess, and ask forgiveness for the wrong. Bishop Burnet remarks on the circumstance, as appearing to indicate, that, if Anne had been guilty of greater faults, she would not have denied them to the last. Strong, however, as are the presumptions in her favour, and imperfect as appears to be the evidence against her, we shall not deny that her guilt or innocence is an undetermined, perhaps an undeterminable question; a secret, which, like so many other points in history, awaits for its decisionthe judgment-seat of God.
The scaffold was erected within the tower. When brought forth to execution on the 19th of May, 1536, the queen addressed the audience in the following terms :—“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die according to law. By the law I am judged to die, and therefore I shall say nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak any thing of that whereof I am accused. I pray, God save the king, and send him long to reign over you; for a gentler or more merciful prince was there never. To me he was ever a good, gentle, and sovereign lord. If any person will meddle with my cause, I require them to judge the best. Thus I take my leave of the world and of you, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.” She commended her soul to Jesus Christ, and, after some difficulty occasioned by her reluctance to have a bandage round her eyes, received the fatal blow.
When the prosecution of Anne Boleyn commenced, Henry had conceived an affection for the beautiful Jane Seymour. This attachment
" History of the Reformation, Book iii.