Cunning is Not the Word

Thomas Cromwell assigned a handful of ladies to watch over – and spy on – Anne Boleyn while she was imprisoned in the Tower. Four of them — Mary Scrope (Lady Kingston),  Margaret Dymoke (Lady Coffin or Cosyn), Elizabeth Wood Boleyn (Anne’s aunt by marriage but no friend to her), and  Elizabeth Chambers, (Lady Stonor and the Mother of the Maids) – were actively hostile to Anne and the  queen knew it. Anne complained to her jailor, Sir William Kingston (Mary Scrope’s husband), that she had “such about me that I never loved” and she wanted the women “of mine own privy chamber, which I favor most”. This request was not granted of course, and Anne had to make due with the comfortless comfort of spies who actively disliked her.

sad anne-boleyn-anne-of-a-thousand-days

Anne knew full well that they were with her so they could to report anything she said Cromwell, and thus to the king. William Kingston wrote to Cromwell that, “The Que[ne said unto me that same] nyght that the Kyng wyst what he dyd w[hen he put such] ij. abowt hyr as my lady Boleyn and Mestres [Cofyn; for] thay cowd tell her now thynge of my [Lord her father, nor] nothynge ellys, bot she defyed them alle.” While such spirit is lauded in modern times, it just marked her as more of an ‘unladylike’ target for the women who disliked her. Her aunt replied to her,” Seche desyre as you have h[ad to such tales] hase browthe you to thys.” Lady Stonor piled on by making a snide reference to Mark Smeaton, but Anne retorted that, “he wase never in [my chamber but at Winchester, and there] [unless] she sent for hym to pl[ay on the virginals, for there my] logynge wa[s above the King’s] * * for I never spake with hym syns bot upon Saterday before Mayday.”

In spite of her bravado as she “defyed them alle” and defended herself, Anne was in an extremely fragile state. Not only was she facing her own execution, she had to do it surrounded by the jeers of those who had knelt to her not long before. It wouldn’t be long until she would wonder aloud about what could have made the king accuse her of such horrors, and those musings would (duly recorded by her spy-ladies) would be used as ‘proof’ of her guilt.

GenevieveBujoldTower Anne of 1000 Days

As I mentioned in my book, The Jezebel Effect, Anne’s excessive lack of caution around women she knew were out to get her is the opposite of the manipulative man-trap she too often portrayed as:

Boleyn has frequently been portrayed as cunning, as befitting a temptress who played Henry VIII like a cheap fiddle in order to snag a crown. In contrast, her actual behavior was often not the kind indicating a duplicitous ability to manipulate people to her best advantage. Anne was often too frank for her own good. That was unquestionably the case when she was imprisoned in the Tower. She went over, out loud and at length and in front of hostile witnesses, any possible thing she might have said or done to cause Henry’s suspicions. It was Anne, the supposed wily serpent in the Tudor garden, who gave Cromwell most of his paltry ammunition against her by her stupidly forthright comments.

In all honesty, Anne’s entire career had been a long series of telling truths when she should have been lying, flattering, or conniving. Did she soft-soap and bribe her powerful relatives, so they would be at least semi-loyal? No, she allegedly treated the duke of Norfolk “worse than a dog” (Mackay, 2014); she was apparently more affected by the fact he was a horrible man than she was by his title and potential usefulness. Did she toady up to Cromwell, and keep him in the dark about her plans with sweet-talk? No. She challenged him openly and it cost her dearly. During her incarceration, Cromwell “took care to block access to the King” (Starkey, 2003), barring anyone of power who was sympathetic to the queen.

While she was queen, did she devote herself to fawning over the king and buttering him up for even more advantages? No. She was the only person in all of England who would call him on his shenanigans.

Cunning is perhaps not the best word to describe her.

I wonder how the ladies who were attending her felt when the queen went to her death, in part because of their efforts? Henry never evinced regret for Anne, but even Cromwell praised her after her execution in a fit of remorse (or a clever pretense of it). Did the ladies who sat with her while she ate her last meal and prepared her for the beheading ever feel guilty that they had spied on her and tried to turn every phrase she uttered into possible fodder for Cromwell’s trumped up charges?


5 thoughts on “Cunning is Not the Word

  1. I think the ladies did come to regret and care for Anne at the end because after her execution, there were no plans for the treatment of her body and they stood with it because they were afraid she would be treated with dishonour. And they cried terribly when she was going to be executed.

    I think Anne could be manipulative and cunning. She didn’t get as far as she did because she was sweet and kind and timid. She was strong and intelligent and ruthless. It was why Cromwell AND the King feared her and had to have her executed, not just put aside in a convent. I personally think they knew if she lived, she could be so much problems to them BECAUSE of those characteristics. It is why Anne is so fascinating!!

    What she also did have was apparently quite a temper and lashed out at people and spoke out in haste and anger. That I think is her downfall. She did seem to “toady” up to Cromwell and others who supported her during her rise so, yes, she was capable and willing to do that. It was when their paths seem to diverge or they didn’t support her, that these problems began to appear.

  2. When Anne took mass in preparation for her impending death, she swore three times on the Holy Host that she was innocent of all she was accused of. She did this with those ladies and Sir William Kingston as witnesses.

    If there was ever a moment when all those witnesses realised that they were party to judicial murder, it would have been then. No person in the 16th century would have risked their immortal soul by lying when partaking in Mass or at the point of their death.

    We know Anne was very religious in a possibly more practical and pragmatic way to Katherine of Aragon…but Anne’s religious convictions were no less than those of Katherine. Anne would have not lied when taking the Body and Blood of Christ, any more than Katherine of Aragon would have done.

    This, if nothing else, convinced me of Anne’s total innocence.

  3. I never believed Anne was guilty. I view her execution as first degree ,pre meditated, politically expedient murder. I believe she was executed to ensure Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour was 100% legal and there would be no doubt if Jane had a son, he would be the unquestioned heir to the English throne. After all, if both former wives were dead, Henry goes to his third marriage as a widower, not a man with a living wife in the background, which could have caused a problem given the culture and religion of that time.

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