"I tried to rid you of her, Holy Father... unfortunately, I failed."
"Who knows, my son? God works in mysterious ways."
-William Brereton and Pope Paul III, on Anne Boleyn
William Brereton was a groom in the service of Henry VIII. Secretly a devout Catholic, he was initially recruited by the Papacy and the Holy Roman Emperor to assasinate Anne Boleyn; after two failed attempts, he was ordered to halt. He was later accused of comitting adultery with the Queen in Cromwell's plot against her, and beheaded. Appearing only in Season Two of The Tudors, he is played by Canadian actor Jim Gilbert.
In the first two episodes of Season two, Ambassador Eustace Chapuys of Spain is shown recruiting a shadowy hooded figure in the catacombs of London. Chapuys informs him he will become the beloved of God whether he succeeds in killing 'the King's whore' (Anne Boleyn) or dies trying. The agent- who is clearly a member of Henry's household- assures him he will follow Henry and Anne to the summit in France and seek an opportunity to kill her there.
He leaves cards with the likenesses of Henry, Catherine of Aragon and Anne in her apartment, deliberately decapitating Anne's card to unnerve her. During a stormy night in Calais, he sneaks into Anne's chambers and aims a pistol at her while she is reading, but is foiled by the sudden appearance of the King. Brereton silently flees the building before he can be detected. He escapes to Rome in the next episode, apologizing to Chapuys and Pope Paul for his failure; they assure him he is still beloved by Christ for trying.Although Brereton wishes to escape the 'heresy' of the Reformation and live out his days in Rome, the Pope encourages him to become a Jesuit and a martyr by returning to England, an offer which Brereton fervently accepts. At Anne's coronation procession, he fires a musket at her from a building, but hits a guard by mistake and triggering a manhunt. Brereton narrowly escapes capture, managing to sneak back into Whitehall Palace by hiding the gunpowder discharge on his hands.
He tells Chapuys in later episodes that he could easily find another chance to kill her, but Chapuys rebukes him, as any assasination attempts now would be blamed on Emperor Charles, who is now seeking accord with Henry. Brereton assures Chapuys he would die a martyr's death and never talk, to which Chapuys scoffs, since Brereton has never even seen torture. He sternly tells Brereton that he is not to act without orders from the Papacy or the Emperor. Brereton continues to observe Anne, visibly resisting impulses to kill her when she passes near him.In Episode 2.06, Brereton- having spoken with some of Anne's more Catholic handmaidens, who dislike her- tells Chapuys that Anne is supposedly a witch, and that she must die to remove the 'spell' over the king; Chapuys, shocked by this allegation but not commenting on it, grudgingly agrees to let Brereton try to kill her again. However, Brereton's resolve seems to weaken in episode 2.07 when he sees the Queen playing with her young daughter Elizabeth.
In episode 2.09, Brereton is randomly chosen by Thomas Cromwell as one of the scapegoats for his accusation of adultery and incest against the Queen, simply because he has frequently been seen near Anne's chambers. After being arrested, Brereton is at first incredulous at Cromwell's accusations (since he has seldom so much as spoken with Anne). However, both fearing torture (which can be used since he is not a nobleman) and finally seeing an opportunity to bring her down, he falsely confesses that he fornicated with her. Brereton is promptly beheaded in the same episode alongside Anne's other 'accomplices'. Unlike the others, his beheading was clumsy and agonizing, requiring at least three swings of the axe.
Unlike his fictional counterpart, the actual Brereton did not admit to having had sex with Anne Boleyn; rather, like most of her other accused 'accomplices' he defended his innocence right up to his execution. Nor was there ever any evidence of any plots to assassinate Anne Boleyn, despite her unpopularity as Queen.