He helped placed her on the throne of England, but after only three years as queen, he’d be the man responsible for orchestrating her downfall. The man in question is Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s first minister and trusted advisor. A man who helped secure Henry’s divorce from his first queen, Catherine of Aragon, and is now responsible for the removal of a second queen: Anne Boleyn, the woman Henry tore his country and his religion apart to wed.
Both Anne and Cromwell had come from humble beginnings, and together knew what they’d have to loose should they fall out of favour with the king. While they were once a close political ally to one another, Cromwell knew that his greatest threat at court was Anne, just as he was hers. By the time of Anne’s second miscarriage, Cromwell knew that the king’s eye had wandered and that it was only a matter of time until he passed Anne over in favour of a new queen – one capable of giving him the male heir he desired. This was his chance to remove Anne from the throne, and from her position to jeopardise his political career. And he soon gave himself the perfect reason.
“Gentlemen, you should all take warning from me who, was as you know from a poor man made by the prince into a great gentlemen “1
On April 30th, 1536, Cromwell was granted an arrest warrant for Mark Smeaton, a talented musician at court who would frequently play music for Queen Anne and her ladies-in-waiting in her personal chambers. He was taken to the Tower of London and tortured mercilessly until he gave Cromwell what he needed: a confession to committing adultery with Her Majesty the Queen. With this confession, Cromwell knew that he had valid grounds to influence Henry to get a second divorce. But rather than present his findings to the king, Cromwell chose to continue with his investigations, questioning Anne’s ladies-in-waiting for anymore incriminating evidence he could use against her. By the end of his investigations several other gentlemen of the court had been named as possible lovers to Queen Anne including Sir Henry Norris and her own brother, Lord Rochford, who were then taken to the Tower for treason. At that time all of the investigations had taken place in secret behind Anne Boleyn’s back and it wasn’t until May 2nd, when she herself was arrested and sent to the Tower that she learned of what had been conspiring behind her back.
On May 6th, with Cromwell’s evidence against her, Anne Boleyn was found guilty of adultery, treason and witchcraft and sentenced to death by either fire or beheading at His Majesty’s pleasure. Whether Henry believed in the alligations made against his wife or if he just wanted the freedom to marry his latest love, Jane Seymour, we cannot truly know, but rather than have Anne burnt alive, as was the custom for female traitors at the time, he ordered that she be beheaded in the privacy of the Tower of London – a privilege offered only to prisoners of nobility. Henry even spared Anne the dread of the Tower of London’s axeman and paid to have the French executioner of Calais come to London to kill his wife, a gesture that can be seen as a final act of kindness on his part towards the woman he once risked civil war for.
“I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck.”2
May 19th, 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn is beheaded on the now infamous Tower Green. While it may have been her husband, Henry VIII, who signed her death warrant, it was Thomas Cromwell who sent her to the scaffold, all to protect his ambitious political career.
“My pride has bought this punishment.”3
1 & 3: Thomas Cromwell’s execution speech on the scaffold, Tudors: Season 3.
2: Anne Boleyn’s infamous remark concerning her executioner when she hears her execution has been delayed.