Saturday, 8 May 2010

May 7th, 1536: The Faith of the Prisoner

"Of body small,
Of power regal,
She is, and sharp of sight;
Of courage hault,
No manner fault
Is in this falcon white."

- A ballad for Anne Boleyn's Coronation, written by Nicholas Udall (1504 - 1556), Headmaster of Eton College


I would like to apologise for the day-long delay in getting the May 7th post up. Yesterday was my birthday supper and I spent the day in the kitchen cooking a steak and guinness pie, followed by malteser and toblerone cheesecake, with a few friends - Kerry, Lucy, Natalie, Dean, Grace and Aisleagh - stopping by at 7:30. It all turned out very well, so I was very pleased, and like the Queen of England 474 years earlier, on May 7th I had "a great dinner". Unlike her, however, that was because of the company, not despite it!


May 7th, 1536 was the first Sunday the Queen had spent in prison. The day before, Saturday, Thomas Cromwell had visited the fortress to consult privately with Sir William Kingston about the prisoners and the Queen in particular. As a result, Kingston had not made his customary visit to the Queen’s Apartments, nor had he taken his supper with her as usual, as a mark of respect for her royal status. Given how much she detested many of the servants now assigned to watch over her, Anne had missed Sir William’s company and enquired to one of her maids - perhaps the inoffensive Mrs. Stonor or Mrs. Orchard - why he had not visited her the day before, as usual.

Kingston had been busy since morning Mass making checks on the Queen’s alleged paramours – Lord Rochford, Sir Henry, Sir William, Sir Francis, Sir Thomas, Sir Richard and Mark Smeaton. There had also been his daily written report on the Queen, which needed to be dispatched to Westminster before nightfall and since he had not seen the Queen for nearly two days, he asked his wife and Mrs. Coffin to come and see him in the evening, so he could enquire about the Queen’s activities.

The two women told him that earlier in the day the Queen thought she heard the voice of Sir William Fitzwilliam outside the walls of her apartments and that this had upset her, because of the way Fitzwilliam had spoken to her during her arrest five days earlier. Eventually, she was persuaded that it probably hadn’t been him, simply someone with a similar voice. The Queen had then enjoyed “a great dinner,” but she remained confused by Kingston’s failures to pay his respects to her. The two women also informed him that the Queen had once again raised the troublesome issue of her religious requirements.

During Cromwell’s visit the previous day, he and Kingston had doubtless discussed the Queen’s request that the Sacrament be brought to her Oratory; she had made that request on the day of her arrest, but it had still not been fulfilled and, today being Sunday, this had once again focussed Anne’s attention on the issue. She had also been without spiritual comfort in the form of a priest since she had been taken from the palace and this fact was beginning to upset her.

The problem with a priest being allowed to visit the Queen was that Anne was quite specific that she wanted her own confessor, Father John Skip, who at Easter had launched a blistering sermon at Court, in which he likened Cromwell to Haman, a genocidal and duplicitous villain from the Old Testament. Kingston was thus understandably nervous about asking Cromwell to dispatch the fire-breathing padre; when he did finally pass  on the Queen's request, he diplomatically referred to Father Skip as a man “who she supposeth to be devout”. At least that way, Kingston himself could avoid giving any of his own opinions on the troublesome cleric.

However, whilst a tad awkward, Anne's request for her confessor was not necessarily problematic; Cromwell simply ignored it. It was the Queen’s repeated insistence that the Sacrament be brought to her rooms which posed a plethora of problems for the government.

Since she had not performed penance for her abominable crimes, it would have been highly inappropriate for an adulteress to have the Host displayed in her rooms. The Queen, on the other hand, did not consider herself tainted by sexual sin and therefore, she could not understand why the Sacrament was not being brought to her, as requested. Aside from the fact that he did not like the visual of the Queen prostrate before the Sacrament, which would conjure up unwelcome images of a doomed, pious heroine, Cromwell also could not run the risk of being forced to answer awkward questions about the display of such a holy object in the room of someone who – officially – was still an unrepentant harlot. If Kingston brought the Sacrament to her, as asked, there were bound to be questions about why he had been allowed to do so and it would make the government’s case against the Queen even weaker, certainly in terms of the public relations’ war being waged for the hearts and minds of the ever-cynical Londoners.

After supper, Kingston went to visit the Queen before she went to bed for the evening. He apologised for his absence and explained that his duties with the other prisoners had kept him busy; tactfully, he left out his meeting with Thomas Cromwell. As the two sat – probably be the fireplace in the Queen’s audience chamber – “shaking her head three or four times,” she thought back on the extraordinary events of the last few days: “I to be a Queen and as cruelly handled as was never seen!” She again repeated her shock that she had never been formally questioned or allowed to plead her innocence before the Privy Council. They could not prove anything against her, she explained, because “they can bring no witnesses,” since it is a self-evident truth that one cannot bring witnesses for something that did not occur.

Evidently deciding that she was being maudlin, the Queen brightened up and began to talk of pleasanter things, but it was a temporary – and probably artificial – lift in her spirits. In the end, her mind wandered back to religion. “I think the most part of England prays for me,” she said – which was probably an exaggeration, for although she was certainly popular in parts of London and the south, there were other parts of the country where she was profoundly disliked. Still, she drew great comfort from their prayers, real or imagined, and from her own. She told Kingston if she were to die, she would not be afraid. “I shall be in Heaven,” she smiled, “for I have done many good deeds in my days.” (Had any of Anne’s later Protestant devotees heard this quintessentially Catholic view of Salvation, it is likely they would have required smelling salts.)

At the end of their conversation, Kingston rose and bowed to her; as he left, she once again repeated her complaints about her new ladies-in-waiting. She was more discreet  this time, but hardly tactful, considering one of them was Kingston’s wife. “I think [it] much unkindness in the King to put such about me as I never loved,” she whispered; Kingston, rather stiffly, replied that they were “honest and good women,” and since His Majesty thought well of them that should be an end to the matter. “But I would have had of mine own privy chamber, which I favour most,” the Queen replied sadly. It seemed to her monstrously cruel to deprive her of her friends. And if she could not have the comfort of friends, why could she not have the comfort of the Mass. Where were her priests? Why had the Sacrament not been brought to her, as she had asked?

Kingston had no answers to these last requests and, bowing, he left her presence. The despised Mrs. Coffin re-entered the room to help undress the Queen for bed and we can imagine how much it must have irked Anne to have her at such close proximity. As the pearls, velvets and silks were removed from the Queen’s body and the fire died in the grate, dispatches were being sent out from London to commence the legal proceedings which would create her trial, scheduled for one week from Monday, the sole purpose of which was to bring about the judicial murder of the Queen.


  1. I'm following this series with great interest and learning alot. I also wanted to tell you how much I like the images you have chosen for these posts- they are beautiful.

  2. Thank you. I'm glad you're enjoying it and the comment about the images is much appreciated; it's been fun selecting them!

  3. wondering if she was allowed visititation from family members,and if they attempted to visit.

  4. Julygirl, unfortunately we don't know whether or not any members of her family requested the right to visit her. There is a long but unverifiable tradition that in her final days she was allowed her niece, Katherine Carey, as company. However, we do know that the Queen herself was very worried for much of her imprisonment about various family members and how they were faring - particularly her mother, the Countess of Ormonde.


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