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Anne Boleyn and Her Brother Found Guilty of Treason, Adultery and Incest

Updated on July 6, 2013
Anne Boleyn preparing for death at The Tower
Anne Boleyn preparing for death at The Tower

On May 15, 1536, both Anne Boleyn and her brother, George, were found guilty of treason, adultery and incest. Anne was the first to stand up in court in front of a jury that had reason to find her guilty, with her brother second. Since she had been found guilty of incest , it was obvious that George would be found guilty.

Anne Boleyn’s Marriage Annulled

It was clear before Anne’s conviction that she was to be found guilty. Days before, her royal apartments had been taken from her and Jane Seymour was moved into them and the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne was annulled. In retrospect, by annulling the marriage, it would have meant that Anne could never have committed treason – there was no legal marriage to have an affair during.

The annulment was possible since Henry VIII had canal knowledge of Anne’s sister, Mary Boleyn, before her. Henry VIII had to seek a papal dispensation so that he could marry Anne, just like a papal dispensation was sought for Catherine of Aragon. Since King Henry had believed his marriage to Catherine was cursed due to her previous relationship with Arthur Tudor, it makes sense that he would start to believe that the marriage to Anne was cursed due to his relationship with Mary; it was also a convenient way out of the marriage.

Despite this technicality, Anne had numerous amounts of ‘evidence’ put in front of her. She would not have had a defence council or time to look at the evidence beforehand so wouldn’t have known that the dates had to be fabricated.

Anne Boleyn's downfall was perfect for Thomas Cromwell's agenda
Anne Boleyn's downfall was perfect for Thomas Cromwell's agenda

The Dates Anne Boleyn Had Affairs

The following dates were put forward as evidence:

  • November 12 and 19, 1533 with Sir Henry Norris
  • November 16 and 27, 1533 with Sir William Brereton
  • December 3 and 8, 1533 with Sir William Brereton
  • May 8 and 20, 1534 with Sir Francis Weston
  • May 13 and 19, 1534 with Mark Smeaton
  • June 6 and 20, 1534 with Sir Francis Weston
  • November 2, 1535 with Sir George Boleyn
  • December 22 and 29, 1535 with Sir George Boleyn

This is not the full list as there were 20 dates in total.

There are problems with many of these dates. The first is with the birth of Princess Elizabeth Tudor, who was born in September 1533. Anne Boleyn would have been recovering from the birth and would not have been allowed male visitors, even her husband and father, during this period.

The next set of evidence occurred in May and June of 1534, during a time that Anne Boleyn would have been pregnant. Little was known about pregnancy in the 16th century and it was believed that intercourse could harm the baby and cause a miscarriage. Anne Boleyn would not have done anything to harm her unborn child, knowing that Henry VIII had been disappointed by the birth of a girl.

The same applies to the dates in November and December 1535. Anne miscarried in January 1536, at around four months pregnant, which means that she would have known she was with child during the last two months of 1535. She would not have risked everything, knowing that her husband’s eyes were wandering and he was growing tired of her.

The Other Boleyn Girl Storyline Fictionalised

In The Other Boleyn Girl, I cringe at the scene where Anne Boleyn begs her brother to impregnate her after a miscarriage, instead of telling Henry the truth. This storyline is completely fictionalised, considering there is no date after her miscarriage in 1536. While Anne would have been desperate to get pregnant again, she was smart and would not have risked everything she had done to get to where she was.

Watch a Video of Anne Boleyn's Trial

George Boleyn’s Trial Premeditated

George Boleyn tried to fight the conviction and the evidence against him but it was already in vain. If Anne had been found guilty of incest, George had to be found guilty too. His guilty verdict was premeditated. Unfortunately for George, maybe he knew the outcome deep down, he acted recklessly in court. During his trial, he was handed a note about King Henry being impotent. He was told to read it to himself but he read it out-loud.

The note apparently contained information about George gossiping and joking about Henry VIII’s sexual problems and that Elizabeth was not even his daughter – note that none of the main dates mentioned were before Elizabeth’s conception around January 1533.

Unwittingly, George committed treason by reading the note. He had talked about an issue the King had and embarrassed the King by reading it aloud instead of to himself. Maybe George had not committed incest but these actions were enough to find him guilty of treason and he was sentenced to death.

Had George not known that all odds were against him, it is possible that he would have acted with more discretion. Maybe he just realised that there was nothing to lose and he may as well be found guilty of something that he had really done.

Henry VIII had already decided Anne Boleyn was going to be executed.
Henry VIII had already decided Anne Boleyn was going to be executed.

Henry VIII Decided Anne Boleyn Would Die

On the same day as the trials, Jane Seymour received a message from the King while at home in Wolf Hall. He stated that he would send word when the guilty verdict was given at 3pm that day. This message would have been sent days before, meaning Henry VIII had already decided Anne Boleyn’s fate.

Charles V of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor, had already decided that Anne Boleyn would be condemned to death. He wrote to the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys of a option of taking a new bride – “the Infanta of Portugal, daughter of our sister the queen of France” – so that Henry didn’t align himself with France. However, the King of England had already decided who his new bride would be.

Anne Boleyn Executed: Did I Have to Happen?

Was there any need for Anne and George Boleyn to be executed? The only “real” evidence against Anne was the confession from Mark Smeaton, which was probably gained through torture. All the other men denied the crimes but were found guilty anyway. It is probable that Anne was just the victim of plot to remove her from the throne and remove her faction from power.

Henry VIII had grown tired of her stubborn ways and wanted out of the marriage. He didn’t want the same controversy that he had with Catherine of Aragon. By 1536, Queen Anne was loved by the people for her generosity and fighting spirit and they would not have liked Henry taking a new Queen without proof that Anne had to be removed from the throne.

Anne Boleyn’s execution was the only real option for Henry VIII, despite the fact that he could have just annulled the marriage and make her live in a nunnery, and it was perfect for Thomas Cromwell.

What Do You Think?

Were Anne and George Boleyn Guilty of Incest?

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