The Tudor Society

Sir William Kingston and the Arrest of Anne Boleyn by Sarah Bryson

Coat_of_arms_of_Sir_William_Kingston,_KGOn 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,, 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.

There are 5 comments Go To Comment

  1. M

    Her comment, “It is too good for me,” has always stuck in my craw. Why would it be too good for an innocent woman? What did she do that her first response to being kept in the style of a queen would be ‘too good’ for her? Regardless of trumped-up charges and scheming courtiers, that is an odd thing to say.

    1. A

      It’s not an odd thing to say when your life is crumbling around you. People often act and say things that make no sense when under the kind of pressure that Anne was under.

      And until reading your comment, I never once thought it odd when reading about it several times? I never even considered thinking into the statement…

      Anne made this statement regarding being humble to God in the position she was facing which was most likely death. It had nothing to do with her guilt or anything likewise but solely a religious matter between her and God. She most likely had a million thoughts running in her mind and one of them may have been had she not sought the crown she wouldn’t be facing death at that hour. It certainly did not mean she was guilty of incest, treason and adultry.

      The majority of the allegations with our scant evidence 500 years later have been able to have been completely disproven. For example, Cromwell claims one incident occured shortly after Elizabeth’s birth which would have placed Anne in confinement still at an entire different palace. The allegation was I believe Whitehall while Anne was Greenwich. Many other allegations claimed dates where she was not even in the same place either.

      And lets be honest. Had they not made it so absurd with brother and add 4 other men with plans of killing Henry it may have left some type of doubt in an intelligent persons mind but the charges presented as they were is just outlandish.

      Lets also not forget that Anne was not just this spiteful, hotheaded, quick tempered woman that home wrecked Catherine from Henry’s side but she was a human being.

      She had many, many good qualities to her and did many good things in the short time that she was Queen. She provided not only for the poor but also supported for both educational establishments and reformers. In fact, Foxe and Latymer both reported that the royal maundy increased when Anne became Queen. Anne even provided during royal progresses giving alms and ordered canvas to be made for clothing to be distributed for the poor. John Foxe and Wyatt both report Anne provided 14,000 to 15,000 pounds in a 3rd of a year.

      In Anne’s manuscript were the words – The court of kings, princes, chancellors, judging places and audiences be the places where one ought to find equity and justice. But, oh good Lord, where is there more injustice, more exactions, more oppressions of poor widows and orphans, where is there more disorder in all manners and more greater company of unjust men than there, whereas should be but all good order and just people of good and holy example of life.”

      So, this is how things are taken out of context from then and passed and then taken out of more context over the years. Anne goes down in history as the woman that was not that beautiful but was intelligent and charming, learning how to charm and not give way from the French court. A woman that had 6 fingers that believe me, people still are ignorant enough to believe and repeat, as i just saw a comment with someone claiming to have a relative of relative during some Queens reign that opened her vault. We have this woman that was wretched, didn’t care for Henry ONLY his crown and he only wanted her because she didn’t give way. He only lusted her not loved her etc etc. She was hot tempered and Henry tired of her… Bla bla bla

      All of this crap. Yes, we can make our own assumptions and educated guesses as to what Anne’s true personality was. We can try to understand what really happened in the day of her arrest and downfall. We ca, try to get in Henry’s head and know his true feelings. But the fact of the matter is we will never know what happened, we will never be given any more evidence about Anne and her true character and we will never really know what happened during her downfall.

      Personally, I think everything repeated by every historian , author and reader is crap. I don’t think Henry ever fell out of love with Anne and “tired of her”. I don’t think Henry gave her up because she suffered a few miscarriages either. That was VERY common in that day. They were barely married 3 years and had a healthy baby girl regardless of the sex. I,think it was like any other marriage that had went through he’ll together . Henry was a jealous and impulsive man. Anne was also jealous and had a will of steel and spoke her mind like a 21st century “strong” woman would do. Henry didnt tire of that but sure they had disagreements and arguements. Henry would have grew bored with a woman that just did everything he withstand never challenged his well-being. His personlity may have pretended to not like that behavior but in all reality Henry thrived for that type of attention from a woman.

      Do you hienstly think Henry would be content or be in love with a woman that was his puppet? No. Who knows. Maybe Anne flirted with men to “punish” Henry for his dalliance with Jane while she was with child. And her enemies thrived on her every move and manipulated her words and actions . similar to how you are over thinking and judging her words. A huge conspiracy that fell way with Henry at his weak moment. Which is why cromwe felt the need to move very fast. Which is why we Never knew anything was amiss months before her downfall. In fact, right before her arrest Henry went out of his way , tricked chapyuis and basically forced him to acknowledge Anne as Queen. I believe Carew, Jane and the seymours, Cromwell and others had this planned for some time and waited for the oportune moment to strike and did it fast before Henry had time to think anything through or change his mind.

      It was simply her being humble. Hard to imagine but Anne was very religious as the majority of the people were doing that time.

  2. L

    First, I agree with you. The quarters or chambers she was given before her coronation would definitely be good for her. She was still a Queen even though Henry was excuse me for saying “was so dumb and so thoughtless not to find out for himself” whether the charges were true or not. I felt sorry for Anne. She was definitely a Lady and took it most calmly. Although, for her sudden outbursts which I could almost feel what she was feeling. I felt as if I were there and wanted to go to her and hold her, even for a moment. She did not deserve any of the treatment she received or the sentence to die.

  3. S

    Ann Boleyn caused so much death and destruction. A woman wrecking ball. Without Anne there would be no troubles in Ireland nor persecution of Scottish Catholics
    She singlehandedly destroyed Scotland and Ireland

    1. C - Post Author

      Hi Sam,
      Please can you explain how you’ve come to these conclusions? How did Anne have anything to do with Scotland, for example, when it wasn’t united with England until 1603? I just don’t understand your comment at all, please explain. Thank you!

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Sir William Kingston and the Arrest of Anne Boleyn by Sarah Bryson