There were a lot of “beginning of the end” events surrounding Anne Boleyn around this time in 1536. Still, this was the most sinister since it was the first legal step against her.
On April 24, a commission of oyer and terminer was summoned. From the French “to hear and to determine,” this was an extraordinary measure by which treasonous offences were investigated. It empowered a commission to make inquiry as to “every kind of treason, by whomsoever committed” in the counties of Middlesex and Kent – which is what paved the way later for a grand jury to indict Anne and her alleged paramours on the basis of crimes committed at Hampton Court, Whitehall and Westminster. The commission consisted primarily of the King’s Council: Sir Thomas Audley (Lord Chancellor), the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, the Earl of Oxford (Lord High Chamberlain), the Earl of Westmoreland, the Earl of Wilshire (Lord Privy Seal and Anne’s father), the Earl of Sussex, Lord Sandys (Chamberlain of the Household), Sir Thomas Cromwell (Chief Secretary), Sir William Fitzwilliam (Treasurer), Sir William Paulet (Comptroller of the Household), plus nine judges.
Interestingly, Henry did not actually sign the order for the commission, which has led many people to speculate that he was not aware of what Cromwell was doing to engineer Anne’s fall. That said, it was not unlike Henry to disguise facts – this was the man who later in life was well known to be impossibly devious and secretive. More significant, the commission included Anne’s father (who appears to have warned her that something was going on) – I cannot believe that Cromwell would have done something like that without Henry’s knowledge and support…