Documents on the opening of Anne Boleyn's trial are now online at the National Archives for the first time. (scroll down to KB 8/9). This opening includes accusations of Anne's adultery and incest with her brother in which the famed queen supposedly, "tempted her brother with her tongue in the said George's mouth and the said George's tongue in hers." ewwwwww. Too yucky to be true? Most historians think so and even the Spanish Ambassador Chapuys predicted George's acquittal.
Theories continue to differ on why George Boleyn got pulled into the messy business of Anne's downfall. Here are just a few...
The deformed fetus theory
Before Anne's arrest she had supposedly given birth to a deformed male child which according to historian Retha Warnicke, Henry saw as a clear sign of evil incarnate. This deformed fetus led to Henry's conviction that Anne was a baby killing witch and his marriage was doomed. In the 16th century, incest was closely associated with witchcraft so accusing Anne of incest made Anne's execution justifiable in the eyes of a very religious and superstitious king. Even though there is little evidence that Anne gave birth to a deformed fetus, Warnicke gives readers an interesting glimpse into how witchcraft shaped beliefs toward women.
The Anne as victim theory
Eric Ive's believes that few defenses were written about Anne during her trial or after because, "if Anne was 'noble', 'virtuous' and 'worthy', Henry had been a either a monster or a gull." Anything that hurt Anne's reputation, vindicated Herny. Sounds a little too black and white to me, but obviously Henry wanted Anne's reputation dragged through the mud. Along that same line of thought, George Boleyn was merely a helpless casualty in the mission to defile poor sweet Anne. Maybe.
The Henry as Tudor mob boss theory
In my opinion, John Guy and David Starsky suggest the most plausible theory. Henry felt Anne had crossed him and good old Hank was MAD....and certainly mad enough to lash out at Anne's brother. Revenge may sound too simplistic, but Henry may have honestly believed that Anne had committed adultery. Supposedly, Anne had also spoken of Henry being impotent - an act of treason. During George's trial, he had been instructed NOT to read out loud these accusations. But what did silly George do? He brazenly read out loud the tawdry rumors of Henry's impotence. I am pretty sure that calling a man bad in bed to his entire court tends not to lead to clemency.
Obviously, the 16th century idea of revenge was far more violent then it would be today so we have to be careful when making comparisons. But even by 16th century standards, Henry demonstrated a propensity for being a real jerk. Let's remember poor Margaret Pole (shown here), a feeble, old woman sent to her death for her son Reginald Pole's treasonous acts against the crown. Margaret had denounced her son's actions and had always been a loyal servant to the crown even serving as godmother and governess to Henry's daughter Mary. But Henry wanted to send a message to Reginald....mess with me and your whole family gets wacked! Tony Soprano would have been proud.
Appearances are everything
I would also add that Henry was very sensitive to his reputation at court and to the rest of the world. At the time of Anne's downfall, Henry had fallen for Jane Seymour—a woman he saw as the antithesis of Anne. Henry may have wanted to thoroughly tarnish Anne's reputation to create a contrast between Anne as witch and Jane as godly. A new reign was about to begin and Henry wanted his people to accept his new wife and their future heirs.
What do you think? Why was George Boleyn dragged into the trial?