In the queen’s apartments at Windsor Castle. The room is lit up.
In low voices, the courtiers comment on the sad state of Anna who, as queen, is neglected by Henry VIII, her temperamental husband, and spends her days weeping. Jane Seymour, Anna’s confidante and favourite enters: she is worried since she has succumbed to the king’s attentions and is now her friend’s rival. Anna enters followed by the court. She is sad as, for some time now, every evening she waits in vain for the king to come to her. While she is waiting, she asks Smeaton, a page, to cheer her with his music. The youth sings a romanza in which he expresses all his secret love for the queen. But it is almost dawn and Henry has not come, so Anna, confiding in Jane, goes to her own rooms and the court can retire.
Jane returns in a state of agitation and full of remorse. Anna’s words have upset her and she is sorry that she has become the king’s lover and the cause of so much pain for her friend. Meanwhile, Henry enters. He is determined to leave Anna for the younger Seymour, and Jane’s objections are of no avail. Henry will find a way to be rid of Anna and he will do so in such a manner as to guarantee Jane’s dignity in becoming the next queen of England.
The grounds of Windsor Castle. It is daytime.
The queen’s brother, Lord Rochefort, meets Lord Richard Percy, an old childhood friend and Anna’s first love. Percy has been recalled from exile by Henry. The two embrace and Richard cannot help but ask for news of his friend’s sister with whom he is still desperately in love. But the dialogue is interrupted as the king’s retinue gathers for the hunt. Accompanied by the faithful captain of the guard, Hervey, Henry arrives immediately followed by Anna: she has come at dawn to see her husband before the hunt. It is with great surprise and some considerable turmoil that she sees her old lover among those present. Henry greets Percy with feigned benevolence and tells him that he has pardoned and recalled him to England thanks to the intercession of his wife. Percy is moved and throws himself at Anna’s feet while the courtiers, surprised by the unusual amiability of the king, set off for the hunt.
Antechamber in Windsor Castle, with access to Anna’s rooms.
Smeaton warily enters the queen’s antechamber. He must return a locket bearing a miniature portrait of Anna which, in a moment of weakness, he had stolen in order to keep it close to his heart. But someone arrives and he is forced to hide. It is Anna, with Rochefort who tries to persuade her to meet Percy: her former lover cannot resign himself to losing her and he is willing to do anything to be able to speak to her, even for just one moment. Her brother insists and the queen, provided that great care be taken, agrees to see Percy. But when Richard comes to her, he immediately declares his love for her, and when Anna rejects him for the last time, he draws his sword to kill himself. On witnessing the scene, Smeaton thinks that the queen’s life is in danger and he comes out of his hiding place to confront the aggressor. The commotion brings Rochefort back and, alarmed, he breaks in on the scene. Anna faints and at that unfortunate moment, the king too enters, followed by the court. Henry calls the guards as his deceitful plan begins to unfold. Amidst the general confusion, he accuses his wife of being unfaithful. The page steps courageously forward to defend the queen, but an awkward movement causes the locket, which is still on his breast, to fall. Now, as Anna comes round, the king finally has proof of her guilt. He orders that Smeaton, Rochefort, Percy and even the queen be taken to the dungeons. Anna vainly begs her husband to listen to her.
The antechamber to the room where Anna is in custody. Guards stand at the door.
The ladiesinwaiting are weeping for the queen’s unfortunate circumstances. Anna comes to meet them just as Hervey arrives bearing the order for them to testify before the Council of Peers. They embrace their queen and then sorrowfully leave, escorted by the captain of the guard and his men.
Once the ladiesinwaiting have left, Anna bursts into tears, but is cheered at the sight of Jane. Her friend, however, is trembling and agitated, and the queen fears that she may have news of fresh disaster. Seymour has been sent by the king with the purpose of convincing Anna that the only way to save her life it to confess her guilt, even though she may be innocent. The queen is indignant and refuses, preferring an unjust sentence to dishonour. Jane desperately insists and reveals that there is a rival destined to replace her in the king’s heart and on the throne. Anna is stunned by this news, and she pronounces a terrible curse on the couple. Jane becomes confused and, throwing herself at Anna’s feet, she confesses her own guilt. Her friend is profoundly pained, but remembering how, to become queen, she usurped the place of poor Catherine of Aragon, she understands and forgives Jane’s weakness, but not the king’s.
The antechamber leading to the council chamber. The doors are closed and guarded.
The courtiers await the outcome of Smeaton’s interrogation. Hervey brings the news that the youth has declared himself guilty. Henry enters, satisfied with the results of the trial. But the page has been deceived by false promises and, consequently, has confessed to things he has not done in the belief that, by doing so, he can save the queen’s life. Now it is the turn of Anna and Percy who are about to be brought before the judges, but not wishing to meet them, Henry hurries towards the door. The queen, however, stops him to ask once again not to subjected to the shame of judgement. The king scornfully refuses, provoking her reaction, as well as Percy’s, who intervenes to defend her. In their anger, all the secrets are revealed: Anna accuses Henry of plotting to be rid of a wife he is no longer interested in; the king claims that Anna only married him to ascend the throne, but that she never ceased loving Richard; Percy confesses that he had loved Anna before she became queen and that he still loves her to the point that he would give his life for her.
After this confrontation, Henry is angry. Jane arrives to defend Anna, since she does not want Anna to be unjustly condemned because of her. But her tears and her pleas come to nothing as the king merely proclaims her the future queen. In the meantime, the council’s decision arrives, and Hervey reads it to all the court gathered there: the queen is found guilty and sentenced to death, as are Percy, Smeaton and, as the instigator, Rochefort.
The prison of the Tower of London. Soldiers stand in the background and in the doorways.
Percy and Rochefort are waiting to be led to the block. Hervey comes to them with good news: the king has granted them a royal pardon. However, on learning that Anna has not been pardoned, they indignantly refuse it. The ladiesinwaiting come from the dungeon where Anna is being held. They are weeping after bidding her farewell for the last time. They are followed by Anna herself, who appears to be absorbed in deep thought. Suddenly, she seems to brighten up, but it is her mind that is wandering. At first, she thinks that it is her wedding day, then she imagines she can see Percy arriving and, crying and afflicted, she abandons herself to him, begging him to take her to the castle where she was born and where she had been happy. A drumroll brings her back to reality as the guards arrive. Smeaton, Percy and Rochefort are brought out of their cells. The anguished Smeaton is now fully conscious of the trap into which he has fallen and, on his knees begs Anna to forgive him. But Anna is again no longer herself and, delirious, she orders Smeaton to rise and play his harp. She asks who has broken its strings. The sounds of the celebration of Henry and Jane Seymour’s wedding can be heard in the distance and Anna is once again focused. She forgives the wicked couple and asks for God’s mercy for herself. Then she faints, while the others are led to their execution.