The Last Days of Anne Boleyn


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The Last Days of Anne Boleyn

Writers and historians including Hilary Mantel and Philippa Gregory revisit the last days of Anne Boleyn, who in 1536 became the first queen in British history to be executed.


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On the 19th May 1536, one of the most infamous

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episodes in English history moved towards its gruesome conclusion.

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Anne Boleyn, Queen and second wife of King Henry VIII,

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was taken from her quarters in the Tower of London,

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and with the single blow of a sword became the first

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Queen in Britain's history to be executed.

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To Jesus Christ I commend my spirit. Lord God, have pity on my soul.

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Anne Boleyn's rise to power had been highly controversial.

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She was the commoner who so captivated the King

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he was prepared to tear the Christian Church apart

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in order to have her.

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People like to think of Anne Boleyn as sexually out of control,

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ravenously ambitious, a she-wolf.

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But when it came, her downfall was spectacular.

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It was a bear pit. Primeval, primordial drama,

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red in tooth and claw and horror and passion.

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It's a highly political story, unique to its time and place,

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but it's also a universal story

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because, in the end, it's a story about a man and a woman.

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Today, the saga of Anne Boleyn's downfall has entered into legend.

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It was a blood-soaked ending to a love story

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that began with inflamed passions and high intrigue

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and has lost none of its power to fascinate.

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And 500 years on, the reasons for her downfall

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continue to stir strong argument.

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I think this is one of the most shocking

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and audacious plots in English history.

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I mean, I think all the conspiracy theories are suspect.

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The problem is that there is no evidence.

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Maybe we should pause and ask whether Anne Boleyn was wholly innocent

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of the charges of adultery, treason, that were brought against her,

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and ponder whether, perhaps,

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there might have been something in them.

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So who was the real Anne Boleyn and why was she executed?

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On the afternoon of the 2nd May 1536,

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a unit of the King's Guard arrived at Greenwich Palace near London,

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accompanied by members of Henry VIII's Privy Council.

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They carried with them an extraordinary document,

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a warrant for the arrest of the Queen of England.

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The charges against Anne could hardly have been more serious -

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adultery, incest and conspiring to cause the death of the King.

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Accused and tried alongside her were five men,

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including some of King Henry's closest companions

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and even Anne's own brother.

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All of them were thrown into the Tower of London.

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In a matter of days, they were dead.

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Never before had a Queen been arrested and executed.

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But the reasons behind Anne's destruction remain

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the subject of fierce historical debate.

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The brutal speed of her downfall and the shocking nature

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of the charges against her suggest that she was framed,

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but by whom and for what reason?

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On the face of it, the year 1536 could hardly have begun

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more auspiciously for Anne Boleyn.

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On the 7th January, King Henry's first wife,

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Catherine of Aragon, died at Kimbolton Castle near Cambridge.

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At their favourite palace in Greenwich,

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the King and his new wife threw a party.

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To celebrate Catherine's death, Henry and Anne danced,

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and there are accounts of him and Anne coming out

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dressed in yellow.

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And this has been interpreted to be a sort of sign

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of unbecoming glee.

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So I think for Anne this is a great moment.

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Finally, her old rival, her old enemy, is dead.

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We have to remember that Catherine never ceased to call herself Queen,

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and if you didn't give her her full titles,

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she wouldn't answer, she wouldn't negotiate with you.

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So there must be a moment, I suppose,

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when Anne feels, "Now I really am Queen of England."

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Anne had begun her rise to power ten years earlier.

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Although her family were commoners,

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they were notorious for their scheming ambitions.

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After a period of training in the French royal household,

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Anne made her debut at court

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and became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine.

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She came at the age of about 21 to the English court,

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and she seems to have burst upon it with a certain brilliance.

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And she was very confident,

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very stylish, very French.

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It was said you would have taken her for a French woman born,

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and she clearly made an impact.

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She's obviously not a girl that everybody goes, like,

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"That's the prettiest girl at court." But I think what she is

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is I think she's probably the sexiest girl at court.

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She's very, very intelligent, she's very quick witted.

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There was a lot of discussion about theology.

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She has a genuine interest in that.

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So you've got a young woman of some substance.

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She was thought to be a bit of a cut above.

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What she was was sophisticated and cosmopolitan,

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and she could dance and she could recite poetry.

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And she obviously just had a charisma

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that attracted people to her.

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King Henry was infatuated.

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He bombarded Anne with love letters, begging her to become his mistress.

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But the new girl at court was a shrewd operator.

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We don't know to what extent she loved him,

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if she ever did, or if she operated on a basis of cold ambition.

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But she strikes me as a woman slightly too cool,

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detached and intelligent to stake everything on love.

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In a move of astonishing boldness,

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Anne told Henry she would settle for nothing less than to be his Queen.

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And, of course, for a King,

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this is wildly exciting.

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Nobody's ever talked to him like this before.

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Nobody has ever, effectively, given him orders.

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So Henry made a momentous decision

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to divorce his Spanish wife of 24 years.

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To do so, Henry was forced to break with the Catholic Church in Rome

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and declare himself head of a new Church of England.

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So there were many who resented Anne Boleyn as a destructive

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and immoral force.

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There's this famous account of her being called a "goggle-eyed whore".

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I think there is a sense that people feel that wrong has been done

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and that Catherine was the true Queen

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and therefore, Anne is a usurper

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and who has wormed her way into the King's bed.

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No woman had ever done what she did before.

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No woman had ever made that step from royal mistress to the throne,

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getting the Queen, a real Queen, out of the way.

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This is something utterly, completely extraordinary.

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It changes all the rules.

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After a six-year legal battle, Henry finally got his divorce

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and Anne Boleyn got her crown.

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And by 1536, she had another reason to be happy.

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Anne was pregnant.

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She had already given Henry a daughter, the Princess Elizabeth.

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Now all she needed to do was bear Henry a son

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and her position as Queen would be unassailable.

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Anne Boleyn was riding high. And Henry was saying,

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"And God be praised, we are free from the fear of war,"

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because it was felt that Catherine's nephew, the Emperor Charles V,

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might invade England on her behalf.

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But no. Anne now felt the way was clear for her to be accepted

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as undisputed Queen.

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Yet just three months later, Anne would be dead.

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Although she couldn't have known it,

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the road to her ruin began on the very day that her rival was buried.

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On 29th January 1536, three weeks after her death,

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Catherine of Aragon was laid to rest in Peterborough Cathedral.

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But on this occasion, there were no celebrations at court.

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On the very same day, Anne suffered a miscarriage.

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Even worse, the unborn child was a boy.

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Henry was devastated.

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The idea of not having an heir was unthinkable.

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He's had two children, both of them daughters.

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It's... It's... This is failure for a king of a most terrible sort.

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The survival of the dynasty is what is at stake.

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Anne had had a miscarriage before, perhaps more than one.

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Now there is another.

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And Henry is finding his flesh begins to creep...

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because it looks as if this deathly pattern

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is reasserting itself.

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Henry is an intensely religious man.

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This is not assumed. This is not feigned.

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He thinks that, as King,

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he has a direct relationship with God.

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So why? Am I still not on the right side of God?

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What does God want of me now?

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Did Anne Boleyn's failure to give Henry a son

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set in motion the events which led to her downfall?

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Records from the period offer a clue into Henry's thinking.

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The day after the miscarriage, he declared to a courtier

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that he had been charmed into marrying Anne

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by magic spells or sorcery.

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But were these the wild words of a distraught husband

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or something more ominous?

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When Henry talks about enchantments, charms, magic tricks,

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Henry is beginning, it seems,

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to think about annulling his marriage to Anne.

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He cannot imagine what he ever saw in Anne Boleyn,

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and he cannot imagine why, for her sake, he broke with Rome,

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turned the politics of Europe upside down.

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So he's thrashing about, trying to find a reason.

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And he's saying,

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"Perhaps my marriage was always null and void

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"for lack of proper consent."

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But some perceive a different, darker tale

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in the story of Anne Boleyn's miscarriage.

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According to some accounts,

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Anne's miscarried child was found to have physical deformities.

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Clear evidence to 16th-century minds of evildoing.

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Anne miscarries a baby,

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and it's inspected by a midwife who says that it was a boy,

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but it's malformed.

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Now, that's of enormous importance.

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The belief was, in the medieval world,

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was that if a woman gave birth to a deformed or a malformed foetus,

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then what everybody would genuinely, thoroughly and sincerely believe

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is that she's done a truly awful sin.

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And that would be like adultery, like gross adultery,

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or it would be incest, or it might be witchcraft.

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But when she loses the baby, you know, Henry,

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what he sees is conclusive evidence that his wife is not a good woman,

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and that his marriage is not blessed by God.

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And that's the least of his fears.

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I'm certain that he feels that.

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It may be that he goes further and believes that his wife is a witch.

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There's no indication in the contemporary records

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that this was anything other than a normal pregnancy with a sad end.

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The idea that Anne was delivered of a shapeless mass of flesh

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comes along 40 years later, to the best of my knowledge and belief,

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in the work of Nicholas Sanders, who is a Catholic propagandist.

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And a great edifice of speculation has been built up on this,

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so that it's quite hard to remember

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that there is no evidence at the root of it all.

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This hypothesis, let's call it, is so sensational,

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so hair-raising and, of course, it's attractive to novelists.

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But there is really...

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It's just hot air.

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We will never know for sure whether it was Anne's miscarriage

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that sealed her fate, but there is evidence to suggest

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that by the spring of 1536, Henry was in the grip of a new passion.

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On the 30th March, the King sat down to write a letter,

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something he normally avoided.

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But this was a love letter

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for one of Anne Boleyn's own ladies-in-waiting...

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..a certain Jane Seymour.

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She was the direct opposite to Anne Boleyn,

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self-effacing, demure, humble, obedient.

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At least, she looked as if she'd be no trouble.

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She is so pale that she virtually doesn't exist.

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She is desperately plain.

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And Henry, like a pendulum, swings from one to the other.

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Although the content of Henry's letter to Jane Seymour is not known,

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Jane's reaction to the King's overtures

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was witnessed by observers.

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She kisses the letter.

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Jane hands it back to the messenger,

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saying, "It would be quite improper for me to take this,

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"but please tell the King

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"that he should send it again

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"when I should happen to make a good marriage."

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But she's teasing Henry,

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and after this point,

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he's thinking, "Can I get out of my marriage to Anne?"

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I don't think that Henry had decided he wanted to get rid of Anne.

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There isn't really any evidence of it.

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In practice, I think that he had worked very hard to get her

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and wasn't about to throw her away easily.

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Henry does have mistresses, he has about three that we know of,

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and the worst case scenario, I think,

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is that Henry is trying to make Jane his mistress.

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And I certainly don't think that there's any way

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that one can spin that out and say that's the beginning of the end.

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In the King's eyes,

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was Jane Seymour a new Queen-in-waiting

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or just a potential royal mistress?

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Whatever Henry's intentions, one thing is beyond doubt.

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By March 1536, his infatuation with Anne Boleyn was over.

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What Henry looked for in a wife was one just like Catherine, please.

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Intelligent, for sure, but knowing her place.

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But Anne continued to be Anne.

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What makes Anne interesting and fascinating, I think,

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is precisely that she's not like Catherine of Aragon.

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She is highly intelligent, articulate.

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She'd seen some of the world,

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she knew scholars and she talked to them,

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she was the friend of poets and intellectuals,

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and she involved herself in matters of religion and state politics

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and simply won't accept conventional roles as the wife.

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Because she had become enmeshed in the diplomatic game,

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because she'd acquired her own expertise,

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she saw herself as a player and as an advisor to Henry,

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but Henry didn't want advice from his wife.

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But was Anne's downfall

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simply the result of a breakdown in her marriage to Henry?

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In the highly-charged atmosphere of the Tudor court,

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sexual politics weren't the only dangerous forces at work.

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There were other seething tensions in the form of power politics.

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On the 2nd April, King Henry, Anne and the court

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gathered in the Chapel Royal for the Passion Sunday service.

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The sermon that day was delivered by Anne Boleyn's personal chaplain.

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In nomine Christis.

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His name was John Skip.

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On this day, when we remember the passion of our Saviour,

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we do well to recall his words in the Temple.

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"Which of you can convict me of sin?"

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For his theme, Skip took on the most controversial issue of the day -

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religious reform and the dissolution of the monasteries.

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In these days, many men attack the clergy...

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but is it for noble reasons?

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Or is it because they would have of the clergy their possessions?

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I mean, it's a wonderful piece of political theatre.

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It's a court sermon in front of the assembled King

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and nobility and the Council, and Skip lays into them.

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It's a wonderful satirical sermon where

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he essentially criticises everyone.

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But Anne's chaplain appeared to have one particular courtier

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in his sights.

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Let us not forget the Book of Esther

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and the sins of the wicked counsellor.

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Skip told the biblical story of an evil royal advisor named Haman.

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But few in the chapel could have doubted who his real target was.

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Thomas Cromwell was Henry's chief political counsellor.

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He had risen to power by acting as the King's advisor

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over his divorce from Catherine and the break with Rome.

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Although the fortunes of Cromwell and Anne Boleyn

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were closely entwined, some believe that by 1536,

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their relationship had reached a crisis point.

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Cromwell, by this stage, is minister of everything.

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There's very little business done in England that doesn't cross his desk.

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Cromwell is astute, he's omnicompetent.

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He's as clever as a bag of snakes.

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He's a supreme master of the political game

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and he was, of course, one of the people

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who made the marriage possible.

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But political divisions have crept in.

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Anne is not, as she had hoped,

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Henry's front line political advisor.

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Cromwell is.

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And the King said, "Who is in the court?"

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And his servants said unto him, "Behold! Haman stands in the court."

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And the King said, "Let him come in."

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I think that sermon is totally extraordinary.

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To invoke Haman has to be directed,

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absolutely full-on, square,

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at Cromwell himself.

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It's throwing a grenade.

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And to do it in front of the King, in the Chapel Royal,

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surely, it's a declaration of war.

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He has begun to complain, way back in 1534,

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that Anne is turning against him.

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He's said that Anne's threatened him, he said Anne wants his head.

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By 1536, the conflict is ready to explode.

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She said unto him, "The enemy is this wicked Haman."

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And thanks to this woman,

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Haman was hanged from a gallows, 50 cubits high.

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I think there is a power rivalry.

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I think Cromwell has come up since 1532.

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Anne fears her influence is waning,

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and I think there is this power struggle going on.

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So I think that, you know, Anne is feeling threatened by Cromwell,

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but I think he's also feeling threatened by her.

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I think that's rather far-fetched. I don't really see the analogy.

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I don't quite see what Cromwell should have been the author of,

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that Anne Boleyn would be so opposed to, and the assumption there is that

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Cromwell is a leading minister, that perhaps he is a controlling minister.

0:24:010:24:06

I see Cromwell as very much the King's servant.

0:24:060:24:11

I'm not convinced that she would campaign

0:24:110:24:14

to get rid of Cromwell in that way.

0:24:140:24:16

I don't think that we can necessarily say

0:24:160:24:19

that because her chaplain has said something, he's Anne's mouthpiece.

0:24:190:24:23

We are making all sorts of leaps, in order just to use this piece

0:24:230:24:27

of evidence to suggest that Anne is opposed to Cromwell.

0:24:270:24:32

But sorry, forgive me, why do you have a sermon invoking Haman?

0:24:320:24:37

Why does Cromwell mention it three or four times in conversation?

0:24:370:24:42

Sorry, if this isn't evidence, I don't know what is.

0:24:420:24:45

Five centuries on, it's still hard to disentangle

0:24:480:24:51

the troubled relationship between Anne, Henry and Cromwell.

0:24:510:24:55

Was Anne brought down by a brutal husband who had tired of his wife,

0:24:570:25:01

or by a power struggle with Henry's scheming counsellor?

0:25:010:25:04

Two weeks after John Skip's extraordinary sermon,

0:25:080:25:11

a second dramatic encounter in the chapel at Greenwich Palace

0:25:110:25:15

provides an insight into the tensions within Henry's court.

0:25:150:25:19

On 18th April,

0:25:220:25:23

the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys arrived at court.

0:25:230:25:27

Chapuys' master, Charles V, was the nephew of Catherine of Aragon.

0:25:300:25:34

Charles had refused to recognise Anne Boleyn and even threatened war.

0:25:370:25:41

Ambassador Chapuys had come to discuss peace terms with Henry.

0:25:440:25:47

But first, Henry had arranged a little surprise for his guest.

0:25:490:25:53

The King and Queen would sit in the Royal Pew above the Chapel,

0:25:550:25:58

in the body of the Chapel, and then they would come down to offer.

0:25:580:26:01

And there would be like a small staircase coming down,

0:26:020:26:05

so there wasn't much room at the bottom, and Chapuys was there.

0:26:050:26:08

It was such a small space and she had to come face-to-face with him.

0:26:080:26:11

For the past seven years, the Ambassador had refused to meet Anne

0:26:150:26:19

in person, and insisted on calling her "the whore".

0:26:190:26:23

Now his hand had been forced.

0:26:240:26:27

Henry essentially stages this manoeuvre whereby Chapuys

0:26:320:26:36

will bow to Anne in the chapel, and this is crucial,

0:26:360:26:40

because this tiny piece of etiquette is a diplomatic coup.

0:26:400:26:44

What Chapuys is doing is, on behalf of the Emperor Charles V,

0:26:490:26:53

he is recognising Anne Boleyn.

0:26:530:26:55

He is conceding, by that gesture, that Henry VIII's break with Rome

0:26:560:27:00

and his marriage and all that,

0:27:000:27:02

that Henry at least had some justification. That is a major step.

0:27:020:27:06

The Ambassador's gesture has been seen by some as a victory for Anne,

0:27:080:27:12

and clear evidence that her recent miscarriage

0:27:120:27:15

had been forgiven and forgotten by King Henry.

0:27:150:27:18

Anne was quite triumphant, yes, absolutely, and to Cromwell

0:27:190:27:23

it became very clear that Anne had...

0:27:230:27:27

Well, it looked to Cromwell as if Anne had recovered

0:27:270:27:29

her ascendancy over Henry, or was actually recovering it.

0:27:290:27:32

Henry's championing her again.

0:27:320:27:34

Why would Henry VIII have been

0:27:460:27:48

involved in doing something like this,

0:27:480:27:50

if he knew that, two weeks later, Anne Boleyn would be falling?

0:27:500:27:54

I think it's inconceivable that, at this point, 18th April,

0:27:540:27:58

Henry has resolved on getting rid of Anne Boleyn.

0:27:580:28:00

If Henry was still committed to his wife on 18th April,

0:28:030:28:06

just two weeks before her arrest, then the theory that somebody else

0:28:060:28:10

engineered Anne's downfall starts to gain credibility.

0:28:100:28:14

And the finger of suspicion points towards Cromwell.

0:28:190:28:22

Shortly after the service in the chapel,

0:28:260:28:28

King Henry and Chapuys met, accompanied by Cromwell.

0:28:280:28:32

Their subject was the delicate state of England's alliance

0:28:330:28:35

with Charles V, an alliance that had been broken by Cromwell.

0:28:350:28:40

At some point, Henry appears to turn on Cromwell.

0:28:440:28:49

We don't have a word-to-word account.

0:28:490:28:52

It seems that Cromwell is being accused of making

0:28:520:28:57

his own foreign policy in cahoots

0:28:570:29:00

with the Imperial Ambassador,

0:29:000:29:02

and he's gone too far along the line of conciliation.

0:29:020:29:07

And it's tantalising,

0:29:070:29:10

because here is history eavesdropping,

0:29:100:29:14

but we're not quite close enough.

0:29:140:29:17

But it's quite obvious from their body language

0:29:170:29:20

that a full-scale row is going on here.

0:29:200:29:22

Cromwell walks away, he's in terrible distress, physical distress.

0:29:240:29:29

He looks like a man who's on the brink of a heart attack

0:29:290:29:32

or some other catastrophe.

0:29:320:29:33

It's possible that this was a turning point.

0:29:330:29:37

Could his humiliating dressing down from the King

0:29:390:29:42

have been the moment that Cromwell turned on Anne?

0:29:420:29:45

Some historians have argued that there was a great fissure

0:29:460:29:49

between Cromwell and Anne, that they had been close allies

0:29:490:29:51

and now, because of these matters of foreign policy

0:29:510:29:54

and the dissolution of the monasteries, that they are separate.

0:29:540:29:56

I don't think that's actually what's going on.

0:29:560:29:59

I think, perhaps one can argue that there might be some struggle

0:29:590:30:02

for a place in Henry's affections.

0:30:020:30:05

Henry tends to rely on one pivotal person,

0:30:050:30:08

and they're both trying to be that person,

0:30:080:30:11

but the evidence for their arguments are really very far and few between.

0:30:110:30:16

It's mostly speculation.

0:30:160:30:18

Speculation?

0:30:200:30:21

Maybe.

0:30:210:30:23

The facts are these.

0:30:230:30:25

The next day, Cromwell absented himself from court,

0:30:270:30:31

claiming illness.

0:30:310:30:32

While he was away, a series of scandalous rumours about Anne Boleyn

0:30:360:30:40

began to spread through the court.

0:30:400:30:42

According to some accounts,

0:30:430:30:45

the stories were started by Anne's own ladies-in-waiting.

0:30:450:30:49

One of Anne's ladies, Lady Worcester,

0:30:500:30:54

was being told off by her brother for her loose living.

0:30:540:30:59

She says, "Huh! Don't blame me."

0:30:590:31:02

"It's nothing to what the Queen gets up to,"

0:31:020:31:06

or words to that effect.

0:31:060:31:08

And to cut a long story short she said,

0:31:080:31:10

"If you think I'm bad, you should see the Queen.

0:31:100:31:12

"She entertains men late at night, including Mark Smeaton,"

0:31:120:31:15

who's a musician at the Queen's court.

0:31:150:31:17

And this was pyrotechnic intelligence.

0:31:190:31:23

The situation then explodes.

0:31:230:31:26

Everything accelerates, and the game changes.

0:31:260:31:30

On 30th April,

0:31:310:31:32

the court musician Mark Smeaton was taken in for questioning.

0:31:320:31:36

His interrogator was none other than Thomas Cromwell,

0:31:390:31:44

now fully restored to health.

0:31:440:31:46

Nobody knows what happened behind closed doors,

0:31:500:31:53

but the outcome of their little chat would have fatal consequences.

0:31:530:31:58

So he takes him back to his house, and questions him.

0:31:590:32:03

We're not sure whether torture was used.

0:32:030:32:05

Some people say there was torture, other people say there wasn't,

0:32:050:32:08

but he remarkably confesses.

0:32:080:32:11

He says, "I had sex with the Queen on three occasions."

0:32:110:32:14

That could have been fantasy, it could have been,

0:32:150:32:17

if there was torture, you know, who knows?

0:32:170:32:20

I probably would confess to having sex with the Queen

0:32:200:32:23

if I was tortured and I wanted it to stop, wouldn't you?

0:32:230:32:25

Just a few days earlier, Anne's position as Queen had seemed secure.

0:32:290:32:33

Now Cromwell had in his hands

0:32:350:32:37

apparently damning evidence of her adultery.

0:32:370:32:40

Later that day, he informed King Henry of his findings.

0:32:430:32:47

Henry is genuinely staggered by this.

0:32:500:32:53

You know, he has just engineered the rapprochement with Chapuys,

0:32:530:32:57

he's sorted out the diplomatic situation to make his marriage

0:32:570:33:01

to Anne acceptable in European eyes, everything is fine.

0:33:010:33:05

And then very suddenly, he has this bombshell dropped on him.

0:33:050:33:08

It's his worst fears.

0:33:100:33:11

This is the woman that he moved hell and high water to be with,

0:33:110:33:16

waited seven long years to marry,

0:33:160:33:18

put aside his wife of nearly 24 years to be with,

0:33:180:33:21

changed the very religion of England to have, and she's betrayed him.

0:33:210:33:26

Oh, dear, people don't understand Henry, do they?

0:33:260:33:30

The best and the most convincing liars believe their own lies.

0:33:320:33:37

Henry has an amazing gift for persuading himself

0:33:380:33:41

that whatever is convenient is true.

0:33:410:33:44

Henry believes it because it's convenient...

0:33:440:33:47

..and then he persuades others.

0:33:490:33:51

But isn't this politics throughout the ages?

0:33:510:33:53

The King gave orders for Anne to be arrested,

0:33:580:34:01

and instructed Cromwell to launch a full investigation.

0:34:010:34:04

An atmosphere of paranoia and panic swept through the court,

0:34:050:34:09

as Cromwell drew up his list of suspects.

0:34:090:34:11

As soon as this begins to happen,

0:34:130:34:15

people start to rush to distance themselves from Anne.

0:34:150:34:19

They're all looking over their shoulder.

0:34:190:34:22

This is a court of terror.

0:34:220:34:24

Everybody is playing with fire.

0:34:240:34:26

Everybody at Henry's court

0:34:280:34:30

is and knows they are a whisker away from execution.

0:34:300:34:34

Confused and terrified,

0:34:360:34:37

the Queen now found herself a prisoner in the Tower of London.

0:34:370:34:42

She alternates between a sense that the law will save her,

0:34:450:34:50

she's innocent, that will come out, won't it?

0:34:500:34:53

Henry's just testing her, isn't he?

0:34:530:34:55

And gradually she then realises that Henry isn't testing her,

0:34:550:34:59

and her innocence won't save her,

0:34:590:35:00

and the law won't help her if Henry doesn't want it to.

0:35:000:35:03

And she's desperately trying to think what it is she's done,

0:35:030:35:06

I think, you know, if she's been accused of having sex

0:35:060:35:08

with men about her, who could they be?

0:35:080:35:10

Within days, no fewer than seven men were under arrest

0:35:120:35:16

for allegedly having illegal intercourse with the Queen.

0:35:160:35:20

Among them was Anne's own brother, George Boleyn.

0:35:200:35:23

In the indictment which we have,

0:35:250:35:26

we don't have all the trial documents,

0:35:260:35:28

but in the indictment, we have these accounts of Anne being accused

0:35:280:35:33

of "having traitorously procuring and inciting

0:35:330:35:35

"her own natural brother George Boleyn to violate her,

0:35:350:35:37

"and alluring him with her tongue in the said George's mouth,

0:35:370:35:40

"and the said George's tongue in hers."

0:35:400:35:41

And so it goes on,

0:35:410:35:43

and it plays to this idea that women are naturally lustful.

0:35:430:35:46

And, of course, this is actually not just lustful,

0:35:460:35:49

but it's almost of the devil.

0:35:490:35:52

Sex with five people, one of them your brother!

0:35:520:35:56

This is deliberately pornographic.

0:35:560:35:58

On the other hand, remember, Anne has broken every rule

0:35:580:36:03

in the political, religious and moral universe.

0:36:030:36:07

As she's inverted the moral and religious universe,

0:36:090:36:12

why shouldn't she have slept with every man she came across?

0:36:120:36:15

It's precisely the magnitude of the charges that makes them convincing.

0:36:150:36:22

But amidst the torrent of lurid allegations,

0:36:250:36:27

Anne stood accused of one particularly monstrous crime.

0:36:270:36:31

According to rumours at court,

0:36:330:36:36

she had been overheard talking with Sir Henry Norris a few days earlier.

0:36:360:36:40

Norris was not only a leading member of Henry's Privy Chamber,

0:36:410:36:45

he was also one of the King's closest companions.

0:36:450:36:49

And the content of their discussion was to prove highly inflammatory.

0:36:510:36:54

So they've been in her chamber

0:36:570:36:59

and she's asked him why he hasn't got married yet,

0:36:590:37:01

and he says that he'd like to tarry a time,

0:37:010:37:03

and she responds, and this is the crucial line,

0:37:030:37:06

"You look for dead men's shoes,

0:37:060:37:08

"for if ought came to the King but good, you would look to have me."

0:37:080:37:12

In other words, she's saying,

0:37:120:37:14

"You want to marry me when my husband's dead, don't you?"

0:37:140:37:17

Speculating about the King's death is an extremely dangerous matter.

0:37:170:37:24

It's a short step from saying, "One day Henry will die,"

0:37:240:37:31

to saying, "And I hope it's soon."

0:37:310:37:34

And it's a short step from saying, "I hope it's soon",

0:37:340:37:38

to saying, "Let's accelerate it."

0:37:380:37:40

So Norris and Anne are coming very close to treason.

0:37:410:37:46

On top of multiple charges of adultery and incest,

0:37:480:37:52

Anne now stood accused of an even more serious crime.

0:37:520:37:56

Plotting the death of the King.

0:37:560:37:59

Henry's not going to say innocent until proved guilty.

0:38:050:38:09

The breath of suspicion is enough.

0:38:100:38:13

Rumours are already leaking out all over Europe.

0:38:130:38:17

Whatever there is out of this, Henry has lost face terribly,

0:38:190:38:23

if it can even be hinted that his wife might be unfaithful to him.

0:38:230:38:29

So Henry's going quietly mad.

0:38:290:38:32

In the 16th century, a wife's adultery

0:38:320:38:35

is thought to suggest her husband's lack of sexual dominance,

0:38:350:38:39

and this obviously doesn't play very well on Henry,

0:38:390:38:42

but it plays even worse when you realise that, actually,

0:38:420:38:45

it's about being able to govern the household.

0:38:450:38:47

If you can't govern a household,

0:38:470:38:50

how can you choose to suggest you can rule a realm?

0:38:500:38:53

Henry now hid himself away in his palace

0:38:540:38:57

and authorised Cromwell to organise a trial.

0:38:570:39:00

Anne never saw her husband again.

0:39:020:39:06

If a power struggle had broken out between Anne and Cromwell,

0:39:070:39:11

then Henry's advisor now had Anne exactly where he wanted her.

0:39:110:39:16

Now, where is Cromwell in this?

0:39:190:39:21

He will say later to the Imperial Ambassador,

0:39:210:39:25

"I went back to my house..."

0:39:250:39:27

"..and I dreamt it up."

0:39:280:39:30

But I don't suppose for one moment that Cromwell had dreamt up

0:39:310:39:38

a stage-by-stage, perfectly controlled process

0:39:380:39:43

which would end in Anne's destruction.

0:39:430:39:47

What he could do was put people under a bit of pressure,

0:39:500:39:55

by asking questions,

0:39:550:39:58

and then sit back and see what they do,

0:39:580:40:02

and he may himself be surprised at the readiness of the courtiers

0:40:020:40:09

to say incriminating things about her.

0:40:090:40:13

I don't think there was a pre-arranged,

0:40:130:40:19

highly intricate conspiracy.

0:40:190:40:23

What I think happened was a series of events,

0:40:230:40:27

which spiralled out of control, took everyone by surprise.

0:40:270:40:33

Cromwell was the one who saw how to play them.

0:40:330:40:36

I don't think that works as an argument,

0:40:360:40:39

I mean, anyone could have done this.

0:40:390:40:41

I mean, you have to sort of look for real evidence

0:40:410:40:43

that someone did do this, and there's much more holding Anne

0:40:430:40:45

and Cromwell together than there is forcing them apart.

0:40:450:40:48

The idea that they suddenly become enemies, I think,

0:40:480:40:50

is not based on the evidence.

0:40:500:40:53

You know, he had been handed, if I can change metaphors,

0:40:540:40:57

a really hot potato, and he wasn't happy to be investigating adultery

0:40:570:41:02

in the Queen's Privy Chamber.

0:41:020:41:03

You know, that is such a difficult thing to do.

0:41:030:41:06

He's in a minefield and every step he could take could lead

0:41:060:41:09

to his own disaster, his own ruin, so, I guess,

0:41:090:41:12

in a sense, he would have hoped Smeaton hadn't confessed,

0:41:120:41:15

but Smeaton did confess.

0:41:150:41:18

And after that, he had to follow it up.

0:41:180:41:20

It was Cromwell. He's the guilty party in this.

0:41:220:41:25

I think this is one of the most shocking and audacious plots

0:41:250:41:28

in English history.

0:41:280:41:29

Cromwell masterminded it.

0:41:290:41:31

He got the evidence and the evidence was laid before the King,

0:41:310:41:35

and it was compelling.

0:41:350:41:36

Cromwell later tells Chapuys that he thought up and plotted

0:41:380:41:42

the affair of the Queen, in which he had taken a great deal of trouble.

0:41:420:41:46

But, I mean, I'm tempted to say, "He would say that, wouldn't he?"

0:41:470:41:50

The alternative is to say,

0:41:500:41:51

"No, I had absolutely no idea what was going on until someone told me."

0:41:510:41:54

But if you look at the evidence,

0:41:540:41:56

he just wasn't involved until Henry brought him in.

0:41:560:41:59

The only piece of evidence that's used to say that it was a coup,

0:41:590:42:02

is a line in a letter from Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador.

0:42:020:42:06

Cromwell has said to him, and it's written in French, the original,

0:42:060:42:09

that he's set himself to conspire and think up the said affair.

0:42:090:42:13

But the problem is, historians don't always tell you

0:42:130:42:16

everything you need to know, and what you need to know

0:42:160:42:18

in this instance is the line before, the context.

0:42:180:42:21

The crucial line before, is that he himself, Cromwell,

0:42:210:42:24

had been commissioned by the King to put to an end the mistress's trial.

0:42:240:42:29

So it actually means that the context is very much

0:42:290:42:33

that Cromwell himself admits that Henry has told him to do it.

0:42:330:42:38

Almost 500 years later, the full extent of Thomas Cromwell's role

0:42:400:42:44

in Anne's downfall is still hard to pin down.

0:42:440:42:48

Was he the author of a plot against Anne,

0:42:480:42:51

or was he simply following orders?

0:42:510:42:53

The final driver of everything under Henry, is Henry.

0:42:550:43:00

And it is very clear indeed,

0:43:000:43:02

it's driven by the fact that Henry wants to get rid of her.

0:43:020:43:05

She's undercut, very seriously, by that miscarriage.

0:43:120:43:18

But if she'd carried that child to term,

0:43:180:43:21

she would have been absolutely secure.

0:43:210:43:25

It wouldn't have mattered about Jane Seymour,

0:43:250:43:27

it wouldn't have mattered about what the King felt about her.

0:43:270:43:31

It's also that she was creating serious trouble at court.

0:43:310:43:35

Her arrogance, the way that she bad-mouths, to their faces,

0:43:350:43:40

leading members of the court.

0:43:400:43:42

It breaks etiquette, it treads on toes.

0:43:420:43:46

As relations between Anne, Henry and Cromwell

0:43:470:43:52

all become increasingly fraught, the signal must come from Henry.

0:43:520:43:57

"I am fed up. We want this woman out of the way."

0:43:570:44:01

We will probably never know precisely how far Anne's downfall

0:44:050:44:08

was orchestrated by Henry or Cromwell.

0:44:080:44:11

But could there be a simpler explanation for the events of 1536,

0:44:130:44:18

rooted in the relationship between sex and politics

0:44:180:44:21

in the highly charged world of the Tudor court?

0:44:210:44:23

I think that Henry really believes these rumours.

0:44:250:44:28

I don't think Henry tired of her,

0:44:280:44:30

and I don't think it was a court coup by Cromwell.

0:44:300:44:33

What I think it is, is a game of courtly love gone wrong.

0:44:330:44:36

In the 16th century, women had to be very chaste

0:44:380:44:41

in order to maintain their honour,

0:44:410:44:43

but at the same time, for women of the court, for someone like Anne,

0:44:430:44:47

it was necessary that she be attractive and alluring

0:44:470:44:51

and talk of love.

0:44:510:44:52

And she was surrounded by men who were paying court to her,

0:44:550:44:59

essentially, who would sing her songs, who would write her poetry.

0:44:590:45:04

And so there is this tightrope that they're trying to walk

0:45:090:45:12

between appearing entirely chaste,

0:45:120:45:16

but appearing entirely available at the same time.

0:45:160:45:19

Queens have a difficult task.

0:45:190:45:21

You know, they tell her that she is their mistress, that they love

0:45:210:45:24

her above all other women and that their hearts ache for her presence.

0:45:240:45:28

She's in a world where she has to behave flirtatiously.

0:45:300:45:34

That's that line that you can cross so easily, and what Anne does

0:45:370:45:40

in that conversation with Norris is cross that line definitively

0:45:400:45:44

and at the wrong moment and in the wrong terms.

0:45:440:45:47

And that's the moment that destroys her, I think.

0:45:470:45:50

There's no grand conspiracy theory that they're hatching.

0:45:500:45:53

To imagine the death of the King is technically a crime,

0:45:530:45:55

and is politically a disastrous thing to do.

0:45:550:45:58

So it's not a cynical destruction of an innocent woman,

0:45:580:46:01

it's a destruction of an innocent woman

0:46:010:46:04

who appeared to conform to various patterns of guilt.

0:46:040:46:07

And if you happen to be an egotistical monster,

0:46:070:46:10

as Henry VIII was, you want to act decisively.

0:46:100:46:14

And he does act decisively.

0:46:140:46:16

He destroys the people he thinks have betrayed him.

0:46:160:46:18

Less than two weeks after their arrest, five men,

0:46:200:46:23

including Mark Smeaton...

0:46:230:46:25

..Henry Norris, and Anne's brother George Boleyn,

0:46:280:46:32

were tried and convicted of adultery and treason and sentenced to death.

0:46:320:46:36

With the single exception of Mark Smeaton,

0:46:400:46:43

all of them protested their innocence.

0:46:430:46:45

On 15th May, it was Anne's turn.

0:46:500:46:53

'My Lords, I am willing to believe you have reasons

0:46:560:47:01

'for what you have done,'

0:47:010:47:03

but they must be other than those which have been produced in court.

0:47:030:47:08

For I am innocent of all the charges you lay against me.

0:47:090:47:13

I have been a faithful wife to the King...

0:47:140:47:17

..and as for my brother...

0:47:190:47:21

..and those others who are unjustly condemned...

0:47:230:47:26

..since it so please the King...

0:47:280:47:30

..I am willing to accompany them to death...

0:47:330:47:36

..with this assurance...

0:47:390:47:40

..that I shall lead an endless life with them of peace and joy.

0:47:440:47:47

For I shall pray to God for the King...

0:47:490:47:52

..and for you, my Lords.

0:47:540:47:56

Before a panel of 26 peers of the realm, Anne defended herself ably.

0:47:580:48:04

But it was no use.

0:48:040:48:05

The decision was a foregone conclusion.

0:48:070:48:09

Her courage throughout all this ordeal is just remarkable,

0:48:110:48:15

and at her trial, her composure, her dignity were admirable,

0:48:150:48:19

and when this dreadful sentence is passed,

0:48:190:48:22

they said her face didn't change.

0:48:220:48:25

And she said, "Oh, Father, oh, Creator,

0:48:250:48:29

"thou who art the way, the life and the truth

0:48:290:48:31

"knowest whether I have deserved this death."

0:48:310:48:34

I think she was already reconciled by then to the fact she would die.

0:48:350:48:39

Anne Boleyn's fall had been so sudden and so spectacular,

0:48:410:48:45

that today, many believe she was the victim of a terrible injustice.

0:48:450:48:49

But there is one other possible explanation

0:48:500:48:53

for the extraordinary events of 1536.

0:48:530:48:56

Why do we all assume that Anne Boleyn must have been innocent?

0:48:580:49:01

Maybe we should pause and ask whether Anne Boleyn

0:49:020:49:06

was wholly innocent of the charges of adultery, treason,

0:49:060:49:10

that were brought against her,

0:49:100:49:11

and ponder whether perhaps there might have been something in them.

0:49:110:49:15

In the absence of any hard evidence of a conspiracy,

0:49:150:49:18

one scholar at least believes Anne could have been guilty as charged.

0:49:180:49:23

Henry, I think, is committed to his marriage.

0:49:230:49:26

Then something happens to call his marriage into question,

0:49:260:49:30

and it happens suddenly.

0:49:300:49:32

And this is where the accusations made by the Countess of Worcester,

0:49:340:49:39

Anne's lady, seem to acquire a greater degree of plausibility.

0:49:390:49:43

It makes sense. After all, she would be in a position

0:49:430:49:46

to know what she was talking about.

0:49:460:49:48

It's difficult to see what motive she would have for making it up,

0:49:480:49:51

because she must have realised it's a serious charge.

0:49:510:49:55

With Smeaton, the difficulty is to explain

0:49:550:49:59

why he should have confessed.

0:49:590:50:01

Now, he may have been tortured.

0:50:010:50:04

The sources are divided about that, torture is not something

0:50:040:50:08

which is commonly in use in Henry VIII's England,

0:50:080:50:11

but there it is, he did confess and he never withdraws his confession.

0:50:110:50:17

He never denies or says that he's made it under pressure.

0:50:170:50:20

Anne Boleyn, her comments hint again at a rather intimate relationship,

0:50:200:50:26

she teasing him.

0:50:260:50:28

It's unusual.

0:50:290:50:31

And even the Duke of Norfolk, a relative,

0:50:310:50:34

describes her as a great whore at one point.

0:50:340:50:37

So it is just possible.

0:50:370:50:39

And in the end, my hunch would be that Anne Boleyn

0:50:390:50:43

did sleep with Mark Smeaton and Henry Norris.

0:50:430:50:46

Whether or not Anne Boleyn was guilty of adultery

0:50:480:50:51

with her courtiers, some believe she could have committed

0:50:510:50:54

an even more shocking offence.

0:50:540:50:56

Not in the pursuit of personal pleasure,

0:50:560:50:59

but for reasons of political expediency.

0:50:590:51:02

To have an incestuous relationship with her brother seems,

0:51:020:51:05

to most modern minds, really most unlikely and very troubling.

0:51:050:51:10

They weren't brought up as brother and sister at all.

0:51:110:51:15

She was away to France, so they meet pretty well as strangers.

0:51:150:51:20

We certainly know that Anne is determined enough

0:51:200:51:23

to take extraordinary decisions.

0:51:230:51:25

You're talking about someone very, very ruthless. Very ruthless indeed.

0:51:250:51:29

So I think it's perfectly possible to imagine that they might decide

0:51:290:51:34

to have intercourse in order to conceive a child,

0:51:340:51:38

especially if, as we know, they believe that the King

0:51:380:51:42

was incapable of fathering a child.

0:51:420:51:44

In those circumstances, I think she's capable of it.

0:51:440:51:48

I'd ask you to think of the cure and the illness.

0:51:480:51:53

"My husband is only occasionally potent. I'd better have sex

0:51:530:51:57

"with my own brother in order to produce a son

0:51:570:51:59

"that he can then believe is his."

0:51:590:52:01

It doesn't quite work, I think, as an argument.

0:52:010:52:03

No matter how desperate you are,

0:52:030:52:05

you don't have sex with your own brother!

0:52:050:52:08

All the accusations that are made against Anne

0:52:080:52:11

give various dates and say "Anne and, you know,

0:52:110:52:15

"at Hampton Court on 7th December 1533 did traitorously procure

0:52:150:52:19

"and incite said man to violate her."

0:52:190:52:23

And we can disprove three quarters of them by proving that Anne wasn't

0:52:230:52:27

in that palace at that time, or the man in question wasn't there.

0:52:270:52:31

They are made up.

0:52:310:52:32

But they're made up in order to achieve an end, which is

0:52:330:52:37

to make sure that Anne doesn't come out of this alive.

0:52:370:52:40

On the 17th May 1536,

0:52:470:52:50

Anne Boleyn looked on from a window in the Tower, as the five men

0:52:500:52:54

accused with her, including her brother, were put to death.

0:52:540:52:58

It's a very chilling picture of Anne

0:53:140:53:16

that we have in these last days in the Tower.

0:53:160:53:18

She prays a lot, that she cries,

0:53:200:53:24

that she says that she wishes

0:53:240:53:25

the executioner would come sooner, so that her ordeal could be ended.

0:53:250:53:29

She's lost her title, she's lost her marriage,

0:53:290:53:33

she won't see her daughter again.

0:53:330:53:35

It's an extraordinary fall, it's a very, very dramatic fall

0:53:350:53:39

and then they tell her the swordsman's arrived.

0:53:390:53:41

There remains one final piece of evidence.

0:53:440:53:47

At dawn on the 18th May, the day she was due to be executed,

0:53:480:53:54

Anne prepared her soul for death.

0:53:540:53:56

-PRIEST:

-In nomine patri, et filii, et spiritus sancti.

0:53:590:54:04

In the presence of a number of witnesses,

0:54:050:54:08

Anne received the last sacrament.

0:54:080:54:10

Corpus domini nostri, Jesu Christi,

0:54:150:54:20

custodiat corpus tuam et animam tuam in vitam aeternam.

0:54:200:54:27

Amen.

0:54:280:54:30

Finally, the Queen made her last solemn confession.

0:54:310:54:36

In the sight of God,

0:54:400:54:42

do you recall any sins you have not yet confessed?

0:54:420:54:46

I swear upon the eternal damnation of my soul...

0:54:480:54:53

..I have been a true wife...

0:54:550:54:56

..and never have I offended with my body against the King.

0:54:580:55:02

Crucially, she swears, on peril of her soul's damnation,

0:55:070:55:12

both before and after taking the Eucharist, that she's innocent.

0:55:120:55:17

And this is a very serious act in this religious age.

0:55:170:55:21

If you know that you're going to meet your maker

0:55:210:55:23

in the next day or so, you're not going to take risks.

0:55:230:55:28

For me, her final confession, it's key evidence,

0:55:280:55:32

because she's facing what she believes will be divine judgment,

0:55:320:55:35

it's her final confession, and she made a declaration,

0:55:350:55:39

she had never offended with her body against the King.

0:55:390:55:44

You might think that she's perhaps being a little bit too specific here

0:55:440:55:48

and that she hadn't offended with her body,

0:55:480:55:51

but had she offended with her heart?

0:55:510:55:54

We don't know.

0:55:540:55:55

During the course of her short life,

0:56:030:56:06

Anne Boleyn had risen from obscurity to become a Queen.

0:56:060:56:09

She had taken the Tudor court and the King by storm,

0:56:140:56:18

and her marriage to Henry

0:56:180:56:20

changed the course of British history for ever.

0:56:200:56:22

But on 19th May 1536, Anne was taken from her lodging

0:56:240:56:29

in the Tower of London to a scaffold nearby.

0:56:290:56:32

Among the onlookers was Thomas Cromwell.

0:56:360:56:39

King Henry stayed away.

0:56:410:56:43

Shortly after 9am, one of history's most remarkable women

0:56:470:56:51

met her brutal end, and 500 years of argument began.

0:56:510:56:57

When it comes to the mystery of Anne Boleyn's fall,

0:57:010:57:03

there's just enough evidence to keep historians guessing,

0:57:030:57:08

but just enough gaps to make sure

0:57:080:57:09

they can never finally get to the solution.

0:57:090:57:12

I think the evidence strongly suggests that Cromwell

0:57:120:57:14

had Anne framed, or framed her himself, and he's the guilty party

0:57:140:57:19

in this, it's judicial murder.

0:57:190:57:21

She's a victim of a husband who decides to kill her.

0:57:210:57:24

It's not suicide in the Tower,

0:57:240:57:27

it's Henry's order that she's taken out and beheaded.

0:57:270:57:30

He doesn't just stop at divorce, it's got to be death for him.

0:57:300:57:33

That's wicked. That's wicked behaviour.

0:57:330:57:37

I don't think it does any favours to Anne

0:57:370:57:41

to cast her as a victim.

0:57:410:57:44

She was not a victim.

0:57:440:57:46

She was a woman who chose to step into the tough political game.

0:57:460:57:55

She made her calculations.

0:57:550:57:57

She played a winning hand.

0:58:000:58:02

Ultimately, she lost.

0:58:040:58:05

Anne Boleyn is one of the most famous and controversial women in British history. In 1536, she became the first queen in Britain's history to be executed. The brutal speed of her downfall and the astonishing nature of the charges against her - treason, adultery, even incest - make her story shocking even to this day.

Yet whilst we know how Anne died, the story of why she had to go and who authored her violent end has been the subject of fiery debate across six centuries. In a radical new approach to televised history, a stellar cast of writers and historians, including Hilary Mantel, David Starkey, Philippa Gregory and others, battle out the story of her last days and give their own unique interpretations of her destruction.