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(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.[313] 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.[314] 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.'[315] 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.[316]
Anne, giving up everything, turned towards a better life, and sought to strengthen herself in God.[317]
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:
A ces seigneurs, parlant comme maîtresse.[318]
'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 soul; 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 queenship, 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 offence 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.[319]
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 Saviour, 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 twenty-eighth year of his majesty King Henry VIII.'[320] 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 offences committed at London, Hampton Court, and Greenwich.' They desired to give to this trial the appearance at least of justice; and as the alleged offences 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 bounds of credulity.'[321] 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.[322] 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.'[323] When this language of Henry VIII.'s favorite was reported to that prince, he cried out: 'Hang him up, then—hang him up!'[324] 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.[325] The earl of Wiltshire was not of the number, as Sanders pretends.[326] 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 deputy-marshal 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 majestic, 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.[327]
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,[328] 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.[329] 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.[330]
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.[331] 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!'[332] 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 king's 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.'[333]
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 in............
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