Sunday, 15 September 2013

Deathbed confession about Anne Boleyn

During the trial of Anne Boleyn in 1536, evidence of Anne's misconduct with other men included a deathbed confession of a previous Lady in waiting to Anne Boleyn; Bridget Wiltshire. 
Bridget died in 1534 and in her final days made a confession to one of her female attendants about the behaviour and nature of Queen Anne. 

John Spelman, one of the judge's at Anne Boleyn's trial noted in his Commonplace book:
"Note that this matter was disclosed by a woman called the Lady Wingfield who was a servant of the said queen and shared the same tendencies. And suddenly the said Wingfield became ill and a little time before her death she showed the matter to one of her"

The contents of this confession are unknown and therefore we can only speculate as to what was confessed, however it can be assumed that what she said concerned Anne having lovers before her marriage to the king or at least behaving in a way that could be considered inappropriate for a woman who was to marry a king. Why were her words not brought to light until two years after her death? Perhaps this was because during Queen Anne's reign it would have been nearly a criminal act to speak against the queen as the king had been known to have punished those who did. Therefore, this apparent confession of the queen having a scandalous past went forgotten for two years until 1536 when King Henry was trying to rid himself of yet another wife, and his men were actively seeking out any information or rumours which could be used against the queen.
One theory to what the confession concerned was Anne Boleyn's relationship with Thomas Wyatt before her marriage to the king. Bridget's third husband was close friends with the Duke of Suffolk, who was a blatant non supporter of Anne Boleyn, and when arrested Wyatt blamed Suffolk for this. 
However, the leading theory is that Bridget and Anne had had an argument, possibly instigated by Bridget speaking to Anne about the fact that she was pregnant with the king's child before being married to him despite herself insisting on her ladies being of high morals, and this argument meant that Bridget left court for a short time. It is the surviving letter that is said to have been an apology from Anne to Bridget and asking her to return to court. This was in fact a minor argument among the women, and it only later got taken out of proportion by Cromwell and his spies to be exaggerated and used against Queen Anne in her trial.

Bridget Wiltshire was born around 1485 as the daughter and heir of Sir John Wiltshire (1434-1526), the comptroller of Calais during the reign of King Henry VII, and his wife Margaret. The Wiltshire family lived at Stone Castle in Kent, which neighbours the Boleyn home of Hever Castle, therefore it is possible that the two families knew each other.
Stone Castle
Bridget married in 1513 to Sir Richard Wingfield (1469-1525), Lord Deputy of Calais and ambassador to Spain, as well as to King Francis of France during the 1520 Field of Cloth of Gold. Sir Richard's first wife had been Catherine Woodville (1458-97), sister to Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Even after Sir Richard's death, Bridget maintained her name of 'Lady Wingfield' for the remainder of her life.
The couple had ten children;
+ Cecily Wingfield (d.1525)
+ Elizabeth Wingfield (d.1522)
+ Charles Wingfield (1513-40)
+ Thomas Maria Wingfield (1516-57)
+ James Wingfield (1519-87)
+ Lawrence Wingfield
+ Jane Wingfield (b.1525)
+ Mary Wingfield
+ Margaret Wingfield
+ Catherine Wingfield

Sir Richard was a well-respected courtier and diplomat, he exchanged written correspondence with the philosopher Erasmus;
"Greeting, honoured sir. Though almost overwhelmed by my literary labours, I have not forgotten your instructions about a physician. I dared not recommend the first comer, and I had already almost found the person we wanted; but in the mean time the man to whom I had entrusted this business is carried off by the prince, or rather, before the prince himself leaves, by my lord the chancellor of Burgundy.
The bearer of this is my servant, whom I am sending over to England on particular business. It will be like your noble self, if you will give him what help he may need towards a safe and convenient crossing. You have done so much for me, you will be willing to add this further service.
Farewell, you and your charming wife and your delightful children. I hope your father-in-law, the comptroller, is in the best of health.
Erasmus of Rotterdam, Louvain, 5 March 1518"

In 1526, after Bridget's first husband had died in Toledo in Spain where he was commissioned, she had married Sir Nicholas Hervey (1490-1532) who was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and an ambassador to Charles V in Ghent - he spent the time from June 1530 until March 1531 in Ghent on commission. 
The couple had five children;
+ Henry Hervey (b.1526)
+ George Hervey (1527-99)
+ George Hervey (1532-1605)
+ Mabel Hervey
+ dau. Hervey

Bridget later married for a third time in 1532 to Sir Robert Tyrwhitt (d.1572), the couple had no children. The time between the death of her second husband and her marrying Tyrwhitt was not long as both events occurred within a year; it is a theory that Anne had scolded Bridget for marrying so soon after the death of her previous husband as it was appropriate to leave a certain amount of time before seeking another husband, and this telling off angered Bridget.

Bridget had spent many years at the royal court; she attended the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 in the household of Queen Catharine. It can be surmised that she remained in Queen Catharine's household until it was broken up by King Henry, however she was the invited back to court to serve Anne Boleyn in 1530 during the time when her own household was growing when she was still Lady Anne Rochford. A letter still exists that Anne wrote to Bridget at this time. Bridget remained at court and saw Anne go from Lady Rochford to Queen of England, during which time it is suggested she served in the queen's household as the Mother of Maids, perhaps due to her being older in age than many of the queen's ladies and her longer tenure at court. In 1532 when King Henry and Anne Boleyn went to Calais, they visited Bridget's house on the way to Dover. Bridget is last seen in court records in January 1534 when she received a New Years gift from the king, and it is assumed that she left court soon after this. Bridget died in childbirth, as did the child as there is no record of a living child from her third marriage. Her last husband Tyrwhitt outlived Bridget by many years.

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