On 2 May 1536, Anne Boleyn was ordered to present herself to the Privy Council. Standing before the Duke of Norfolk, Sir William Fitzwilliam and Sir William Paulet, Anne Boleyn was arrested for committing adultery with three men: Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris and an unnamed man.
After lunch, Anne was escorted from Greenwich to the Tower of London. Popular myth tells of how Anne entered the Tower of London from the Thames through ‘Traitors Gate’. However, researchers and historians suggest that she would have arrived through the Court Gate near the Byward Tower – which was the common entrance for people of nobility and royalty. Here she was met by Sir Edmund Walsingham, the Lieutenant of the Tower, and escorted inside.
Anne was then met by Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower, and taken to the very same lodgings that she stayed in on the night before her coronation three years previously.
Sir William Kingston was instructed by Thomas Cromwell to report back on everything that Anne Boleyn said and did during her time in the Tower. To assist in this, Kingston’s wife was placed as one of three ladies serving the Queen and no one was to speak to Anne unless Lady Kingston was present.
It is thanks to William Kingston’s letters to Cromwell that we know a great deal about what Anne Boleyn did and said during her imprisonment in the Tower of London. On 3 May, Kingston wrote to Cromwell about Anne’s arrival at the Tower:
On my lord of Norfolk and the King’s Council departing from the Tower, I went before the Queen into her lodging. She said unto me, “Mr. Kingston, shall I go into a dungeon?” I said, “No, Madam. You shall go into the lodging you lay in at your coronation.” “It is too good for me, she said; Jesu have mercy on me;” and kneeled down, weeping a good pace, and in the same sorrow fell into a great laughing, as she has done many times since.
She desired me to move the King’s highness that she might have the sacrament in the closet by her chamber, that she might pray for mercy, for I am as clear from the company of man as for sin as I am clear from you, and am the King’s true wedded wife. And then she said, Mr. Kingston, do you know where for I am here? and I said, Nay. And then she asked me, When saw you the King? and I said I saw him not since I saw [him in] the Tiltyard. And then, Mr. K., I pray you to tell me where my Lord my father is? And I told her I saw him afore dinner in the Court. O where is my sweet brother? I said I left him at York Place; and so I did.
“I hear say, said she, that I should be accused with three men; and I can say no more but nay, without I should open my body. And there with opened her gown. O, Norris, hast thou accused me? Thou are in the Tower with me, and thou and I shall die together; and, Mark, thou art here to. O, my mother, thou wilt die with sorrow; and much lamented my lady of Worcester, for by cause that her child did not stir in her body. And my wife said, what should be the cause? And she said, for the sorrow she took for me. And then she said, Mr. Kyngston, shall I die without justice? And I said, the poorest subject the Kyng hath, hath justice. And there with she laughed.”(Letters and Papers Vol 10. 793).
William Kingston had been appointed as Constable of the Tower on 28 May 1524. As well as Anne Boleyn, Kingston was responsible for a number of high-profile prisoners including Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. As Constable of the Tower, Kingston was responsible for the general running and maintenance of the Tower of London as well as the prisoners held within the Tower walls. A bonus of being Constable of the Tower was that Kingston could lay claim to all the debris from boats and ships found in the Thames!
William Kingston’s origins are murky at best. He was born sometime before 1476 and was married three times, although the order of his first two marriages remains unclear. By 1534, he had married his third wife Mary, daughter of Richard Scrope. Kingston had one son named Anthony.
Although little is known about his early years or personal life, there is some information available about his life at court. William Kingston began to make a name for himself in his early twenties when he was appointed as a Justice of the Peace for Gloucestershire around 1506. He was then granted the title of Sheriff of Gloucestershire. Kingston was a yeoman of the chamber to Henry VII from 1497 to 1509. He was also present at Henry VII’s funeral as a gentleman usher.
Kingston moved on to serve the late King’s son, Henry VIII. He served in the young King’s military campaigns in 1511, 1513 and 1523. In 1513, he fought at the Battle of Flodden Field against the Scots and was knighted in October for his services. He was also selected as one of four knights of the body in the privy chamber with an annual salary of £100. However, in May 1519, the privy chamber was reshuffled, and Kingston lost his position. Records show that after this time he was responsible for the King’s jewels and plate, and in 1521 he was one of the King’s carvers.
In 1521, Kingston was part of the grand jury which found the 3rd Duke of Buckingham guilty of treason and sentenced him to death. Upon Buckingham’s execution, Kingston was created steward and bailiff of Buckingham’s possessions in Gloucestershire, as well as being created Constable of Thornbury Castle and Master of any hunts that took place in Gloucestershire.
When the dissolution of the monasteries swept through England, Kingston obtained the site and possessions of the Cistercian Abbey of Flaxley in Gloucestershire. In 1539, Kingston was made Comptroller of the King’s Household and on 23 April of the same year, he was installed as a Knight of the Garter, the highest order of Chivalry in England. Then in 1540 when Thomas Cromwell was arrested for treason and sentenced to death, Kingston purchased Cromwell’s manors at Painswick and Morton Valence for £1000.
Sir William Kingston attended his last Privy Council meeting on 1 September 1540. He died at his manor at Painswick on 14 September 1540.
Sarah Bryson is the author of "Mary Boleyn: In a Nutshell" and "Charles Brandon: The King's Man". She is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours and currently works with children with disabilities. Sarah is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. Visiting England in 2009 furthered her passion and when she returned home she started a website, queentohistory.com, and Facebook page about Tudor history. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing, Tudor costume enactment and wishes to return to England one day.
Image: Coat of arms of Sir William Kingston, based on his Knight of the Garter plate.
- Ives, Eric (2005) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
- Kirk, L.M and Dale M.K "Kingston, Sir William 1476-1540", The History of Parliament Trust 1964-2015, viewed 7th April 2016, http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/kingston-sir-william-1476-1540.
- Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47, ed. J.S Brewer, James Gairdner and R.H Brodie, His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1862-1932.
- Weir, Alison (2009) The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Jonathan Cape, London.
- Historic Royal Palaces 2015, The Constable of the Tower of London, viewed 7th April 2016, http://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/history-and-stories/past-uses-of-the-tower/the-constable-of-the-tower-of-london/.