Act 1, Scene 1
As Queen Anne and the court wait for King Henry VIII to appear, a group gossips about the reason for the King's tardiness. Everyone knows that the Queen has been replaced in the King's affections. His Majesty is now in love with Jane Seymour, the Queen's lady-in-waiting. No wonder the Queen has appeared so sad lately.
The members of the court stop gossiping when Jane herself enters the room. The Queen has sent for her, she tells the group, and although Her Majesty does not yet know that her favorite lady-in-waiting is the reason behind the King's recent coldness, Jane is afraid the secret cannot be kept from her much longer. She is upset, because she loves Anne dearly.
When the Queen asks her why she is not happy, Jane tells her it is because the Queen herself seems so melancholy these days. In an effort to cheer everybody up, Anne asks her minstrel Smeaton to sing. Smeaton, who loves Anne deeply, sings a song about a lady remembering her first sweetheart. This causes Anne to think of her own first love—Percy, Earl of Northumberland, whom she left to marry King Henry.
Waiting for a secret meeting with the King, Jane is disturbed. Queen Anne is so sweet and loving to her that Jane is burdened by guilt and remorse over her affair with Henry. When the King enters, Jane tells him that this must be their last meeting. Angrily Henry asks if Jane still loves him. Jane admits that she loves the King, and Henry tells her of the honors that await her as his next Queen. He reminds Jane that Anne has never really loved him. They talk of their future plans and bid a passionate goodnight.
Henry decides to create a scandal about Anne so that he will have a valid reason to divorce her. Knowing of the Queen's love for Percy, Henry plans to give him a new position in his court. In this way, he hopes to gain his much-needed excuse.
Lord Percy arrives and is greeted by Lord Rochfort, Anne's brother. Percy asks after Anne, and Rochfort says she is happy, although he knows this is not the truth. Soon Henry arrives, followed by Anne—to Henry's displeasure. But the King greets Percy warmly and is pleased to see the way Percy and Anne look tenderly at one another. Rochfort warns Percy that all eyes are on him.
Smeaton hides near the Queen's room, hoping to be able to sing to her. The Queen appears with her brother, who is begging her to meet with Percy. Anne tells her brother she is afraid of meeting her old lover because she knows that Henry will see how she feels for Percy. At that moment, Percy himself enters the room and embraces Anne. When she asks him to leave, Percy threatens to commit suicide. Smeaton then appears from his hiding place, causing Percy to think Anne is having an affair with the page. Into this confused scene, Henry himself enters.
Glad to have discovered the Queen in a compromising position, the King pretends rage, summons his guards, and accuses the Queen of betraying her marriage vows. Smeaton declares the Queen's innocence, but as he does, a picture of the Queen falls from his doublet, making Henry even angrier. In vain Anne insists that she has been loyal to Henry, but he refuses to listen, and announces that she, Percy, Smeaton, and even Lord Rochfort are guilty of treason.
Act 3, Scene 1
A prisoner in her own apartments, Anne is visited by Jane, who confesses she is the one the King now loves. Angry at first, Anne relents and tells Jane she feels only pity for her. Jane urges the Queen to throw herself on the King's mercy and ask for a divorce so she can marry Percy, but Anne says that to do so would be tantamount to an admission of guilt. Jane realizes that the Queen is now prepared to meet her fate.
The court is informed that Smeaton has admitted his guilt to the Council. When the King appears, Anne stops him and is outraged to learn that Smeaton has been tricked into confessing. She declares that her only crime was to believe that she would find happiness with Henry rather than Percy. Percy chooses this moment to announce that he and Anne were married once. Anne is too upset to confirm or deny this, and Henry, whose vanity has been hurt, decides that they both should die. He summons the guards to lead them before the Council, and threatens that Anne will be replaced by a worthier woman on the throne. Jane enters and asks Henry to allow her to go away; she loves him but cannot bear the guilt of Anne's death. Her distress causes Henry to despise Anne more. A messenger announces that the Council has annulled Anne's marriage to Henry and condemned her and the others to death. Jane asks Henry to pardon Anne, but the King refuses.
In the Tower of London, Percy and Rochfort refuse to accept the King's pardon when they hear that the guiltless Queen is still condemned to die. When Anne's ladies-in-waiting come to visit the doomed queen, they are disturbed by her pitiful condition and her confused talk. Anne believes it is her wedding day, then she thinks Percy is nearby, and finally she imagines she is a child again. When Percy, Smeaton, and Rochfort return, she comes to her senses for a moment, but when Smeaton confesses that he lied to the Council in the hope of saving her, she returns to her delirium. She hears the cannon and bells and is told that they acclaim the new Queen. Anne refuses to invoke vengeance upon the guilty couple, and pardons them in hopes of mercy for herself.