Anne Boleyn’s Execution Site

Posted By on November 2, 2010

The Tower Green Memorial

I though I’d write a post on the site of Anne Boleyn’s execution because I get lots of emails asking me about it. Many people think that the present day glass memorial on Tower Green marks the scaffold site and it is a shame that people are misled in this way and that they leave the Tower of London without standing on the true spot. Anne Boleyn fans want to stand on the spot and pause a while (well, I do anyway!) and many end up standing in the wrong place.

The Tower Green Memorial

During the winter and spring of 1876 and 1877 restoration work was carried out on the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, the Tower of London chapel. You can read more about this restoration work and the findings of the Victorian team in my article “Anne Boleyn’s Body Found?”, but it was also at this time that it was decided to erect a memorial tablet, listing those who were buried in the chapel, on the wall near the entrance door, and a few years earlier a memorial plaque had been placed on a railed off area of Tower Green to in memory of those who had met their deaths there.

On 4th September 2006, a new memorial was unveiled on Tower Green. This new memorial, the one visitors see today, was designed by British artist Brian Catling and aimed to provide visitors with a focal point for remembrance and reflection. It features two engraved glass circles, listing those executed on Tower Green, with a sculpted glass pillow as the focal point in the centre. On the polished black stone base is the following poem:-

“Gentle visitor pause a while,
Where you stand death cut away the light of many days.
Here, jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life.
May they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage,
Under these restless skies.”

Brian Catling explained, “I wanted to make people walk around the piece. Before, people would come and stand in front of the small plaque that used to be here – they just stood and didn’t know what to do so I thought: ‘let’s give them something to do’, they now have to walk around it to read the poem – they have to engage with it” and I do think it is a more fitting memorial than a simple plaque, which is easy to miss, and on the 19th May, the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution, people leave flowers on it as well as in the Chapel. However, the memorial does not mark the site of the scaffold used for Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey, and neither does it mark the site of the scaffold used for the likes of Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell and George Boleyn, that site is on Tower Hill and is marked by plaques listing the names of those executed there.

1597 Tower of London Plan

The True Scaffold Site

What we have to remember is that the Tower of London in 1536 was very different to the present day Tower. In 1536 the building known today as the Queen’s House did not exist (Note: This was not where Anne Boleyn was imprisoned as this building was not built until around 1540. Anne was imprisoned in the Queen’s Lodgings – marked “g” on the above plan – of the Royal Palace which is no longer standing.) and neither did the Waterloo Block (formerly the Waterloo Barracks), the building which houses the Crown Jewels, which was built in the mid 19th century. If you look on the 1597 plan of the Tower, you can see that Tower Green used to stretch right round from the chapel (marked “d”) to the north of the White Tower (marked “e”) and it is on the present day gravelled parade ground between the White Tower and the Waterloo Block that Anne Boleyn met her death.

So, if you want to pay your respects at the real site of Anne Boleyn’s execution, where should you stand?

Well, if you take a look at the Tower of London plan at http://www.hrp.org.uk/Resources/Tower%20of%20London.pdf, you will notice that there is a red circle near to the number 40 which is labelled “Entrance to the Crown Jewels”. That’s where you need to go. Stand between the White Tower and the entrance to the Waterloo Block/Crown Jewels and you will be standing where Anne Boleyn was executed. If you look on the above photo, which was taken from the present day glass memorial, you can see the Waterloo Block on the left and the White Tower (with barriers and scaffold around it) on the right and people walking between the two – the people are walking where the scaffold site was located, just above the Yeoman Warder’s hat!

Notes and Sources

Comments

I know that some of you have been frustrated by not being to add comments to posts in the last few days. This was a knock on effect of the recent site upgrade and we think that it is now fixed. Do please email me at claire@theanneboleynfiles.com if you notice any other problems so that we can fix them. Thank you.

Comments on
"Anne Boleyn’s Execution Site"

29 Responses to “Anne Boleyn’s Execution Site”

  1. Rob says:

    Thank you Claire. It’s always good to get this kind of thing clarified. The only problem I still have with this is that the scaffold is clearly shown in the above map at the spot just to the south of the Chapel – which corresponds to the present day memorial. And that is dated 1597, not so long after the events themselves.

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    Claire Reply:

    Hi Robert,

    On the above plan the scaffold site is not marked, the “c” is Beauchamp Tower, but you’re right in that the other plan which is also entitled “Tower of London about 1597″ (see http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/resources/anne-boleyn-places/the-tower-of-london-in-annes-life/) but as it’s copyright 1907 I wonder if they have simply marked “Site of block and scaffold” according to the memorial rather than actual historical records and old plans – not sure! Eric Ives in his notes on his Chapter “Finale” quotes “before the house of Ordnance” and gives a list of sources. Alison Weir quotes Anthony Anthony as saying that the scaffold was erected “before the House of Ordnance”. The House of Ordnance stood opposite the White Tower where the Waterloo Block now stands.

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    Claire Reply:

    Ah, is the scaffold site that funny little drawing in the middle of that blank space? Could be! Perhaps the scaffold for Anne’s execution was in a different place than normal, after all John Husee, in a letter to Lord Lisle, wrote “The Queen suffered with sword this day within the Tower, upon a new scaffold” LP x.919.

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    Rob Reply:

    Still playing Devil’s Advocate for a moment …
    An article here that mentions the house of ordnance – the one build by Henry VIIII.
    http://europeanhistory.about.com/od/ukandireland/a/prtol4.htm
    “Henry VIII may have lived elsewhere, but he spent £2,844 on a ‘Long House of Ordnance’ – which stretched across the north curtain wall and stored artillery and ammunition – and towers for various staff.”
    So the traditional site could still have been ‘before the House of Ordnance’ – that is, south of the curtain wall to the north.
    Anyway, enough of this for one day. I am beginning to feel the brain cells deteriorating rapidly. I think we could go on discussing these things forever, don’t you. Good fun, though.

    Rob Reply:

    Claire, here is a different version of the map
    http://www.clanstirling.org/uploads/tower1597.jpg
    It seems to show more detail in the object south of the chapel, and looks to be a set of small buildings, topped by a square balustrade. The various people involved in the business would then perhaps enter below and ascend stairs within the structure up to the elevated platform on top where they would emerge into public view. I am not saying this is fact – far from it – just a bit of over-vivid imagination on my part (as usual). But it is difficult to imagine what this structure is, if not some kind of public viewing platform. I wonder what others think if they take a look.
    Yes, the scaffold was often built ahead of the event, we hear of it being built especially for Jane Grey, for instance – but there is nothing to suggest that it could not have been erected atop of an already existing building that was on this site.

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  2. lynn says:

    Thank you for the pdf link Claire! :)

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    Claire Reply:

    That’s ok, Lynn. I find it useful to take the modern plan and a 16th century plan with me on a visit to the Tower as then you can work out where Anne was executed and also where she was imprisoned.

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  3. Annette says:

    Thanks so much. When I do get to go to London I want to stand on the very site of Anne’s execution. I would have just assumed the memorial was the spot. A little misleading to put the memorial at a different spot. Now I know better thanks to you.

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  4. Anne Barnhill says:

    THanks, Claire. I still hope to get to England some day and when I do, I’ll at least know where to stand to have a few moments of silence for Anne. Better yet, when I come, I want to come in your tour group–maybe some day! I love these details!

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  5. Ingrid says:

    That’s something that I’ve never heard. Thanks Claire

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  6. David says:

    Unbelievable……! All these many visits when I pondered like you enjoyed doing Claire, I was pondering and letting my mind wonder back into time at the WRONG spot….!! I am so happy you enlightened us and this trip I will be pondering in the correct spot, while people trod over me trying to get in to see the crown jewels…. So her apartments where she stayed while awaiting execution were, more or less, on the south east corner of the white tower today or maybe in the lawn area on the south side of the white tower and that is why they said in some spots of information I found that she walked out the something like cold water towers to the site……?? Thank You Claire for telling us and now if someone would tell those in power at the Tower, that would be a good thing…maybe I will mention it to one of the guards…..

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  7. HannahL says:

    Thanks Claire! I’ll have to remember this in hopes that I’m able to visit London someday.

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  8. julie b says:

    why don’t they move the memorial to the correct site?

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  9. Eliza says:

    I remember that in March, right before my journey to London, you posted here the real site of Anne’s execution, Claire! I felt so lucky that I knew the real facts , because if I hadn’t read your article, I would have visited the wrong place… So, knowing the truth I went to the real site of Anne’s scaffold and I paused there and payed my respects. I was so moved. Thank you for clarifying this matter!!

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  10. amy says:

    i hope one day to visit this site! it’ll be a long way off though because i live in the states, those of you who live in uk are very lucky to be able to visit!

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  11. Wendy says:

    How strange that I should get your mail today on this subject. I went to the Tower yesterday to eat my lunch. I’ve seen the above plan before so I went to sit on a bench on the site of the old Queen’s Lodgings. As I walked past the Barracks I stopped and thought that logistically it was a more convenient place for a scaffold given the number of people who attended. With the Barracks gone, that would be a much wider space which could accommodate a large crowd.

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  12. Wendy says:

    Acording to TudorHistory.Org, the current location of the memorial corresponds to the spot to which an imaginative Tower official pointed when Queen Victoria visited the Tower early in her reign and asked to see the site of Anne Boleyn’s execution. The quick-thinking official chose a spot at random, since he did not know the precise location. His selection became the traditional site of memorials to those executed within the Tower

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    Claire Reply:

    I’ve never read that, Wendy, but you never know!

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  13. boleynfan says:

    Can’t begin to tell you how much I dislike the restful, gentle appearance of the cushion memorial. Saw the site in 2003 before this was installed. It had a much starker tone.

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  14. Carly says:

    I have never even been to London (one day!!!), but are there not tour guides at the Tower who would have this knowledge? And is the actual execution site marked at all, or is it just this blanket memorial? I would think there would be at least a small sign or something, but apparently I am wrong.

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    Claire Reply:

    Hi Carly,
    Tours around the Tower are carried out by Yeoman Warders who are retired soldiers (and now air force too) and although they are trained in the history of the Tower they do tend to spread the myths e.g. the Yeoman warder who took me and my family around in the summer told the crowd that Catherine Howard went to her death saying that she died a queen but would have preferred to have been the wife of Culpeper and I’ve also heard them say that Anne committed adultery and that she had six fingers. It’s juicy info for the tourists.
    The new modern glass memorial on Tower Green replaced the old plaque that was there but there is nothing on the parade ground as I suppose it’s still used as a parade ground and so would get in the way.

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    Jacqui Keane Reply:

    I visited the Tower earlier this week, already aware, having read your article, that the memorial was not on the actual site of execution. I asked one of the Yeoman Warders about this, pointing out the area where you (and I) believe the scaffold actually was. His reply was, “Where did you hear that? Have you been reading Phillipa Gregory?” !! He was quite insistent that it was one of many myths and that the actual site was the small square of grass in which the memorial is placed. He also told me that the Yeomen have to research the history themselves for three months, then give a presentation to the “Tower Elders” before they can conduct tours. Like you, I also overheard a few inaccuracies. One Yeoman told his group that Anne herself sent for a French swordsman as she didn’t want to face an axe, to which my daughter and I both exclaimed loudly, “NO SHE DIDN’T!” which didn’t go down too well… !!!

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  15. carly says:

    the most shocking thing for me when i think of anne bolyne and many others that were found in the chapel was why were they not buried with the honours befitting them. To think of anne and catheryne under an alter in the chapel is so sad. I say lets get them there titles restored, parden them and bury them with a nice monument or something, instead of under an alter where you cant really see them

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    MegC Reply:

    I was under the impression that Anne and Katherine could not be given a traditional burial because they were basically executed for committing treason (I mean, it doesn’t get anymore treacherous than to commit adultery–whether real or imagined) against the King who was God’s representative on Earth and to commit treason against the King was to commit a huge grievance against the Church. Sooooo…

    The only place they could be buried was at the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. I’m not sure why they could be buried there and nowhere else.

    Don’t foresee Elizabeth II issuing a pardon anytime in the near future…Besides, lots of people are buried under altars and floors and in the walls of various churches all over England and Europe. In fact, I thought that the closer to the altar you were buried, the better. Like, under the altar is supposed to be a place of honor or something.

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong about any of this, please :-D

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  16. Carolyn says:

    I think they’re at peace and there is no need to disturb or move their remains elsewhere. They’re buried on Holy Ground, after all.

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  17. Marie Gregg says:

    Glad to know really for sure where Anne Boleyn was executed, I also want to stand on the exact spot. She has always been an exceptional person who had to deal with an extremely cruel Prince. Don’t you know she had to walk on egg shells after they were married. And if Henry loved her so much, why did he not prepare a casket for her body and saw that she was decently buried. I really cannot believe he thought she had sex with her brother and those other men. Henry just wanted her gone because he had tired of her. Also how could he have married I think it was 10 days after her execution. I am sure he thought of her many times till the day he died, especially when he had to see Elizabeth. Someday I plan a major trip to England and will see all the history spots.

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  18. Helen Reynolds says:

    why erect a memorial and not place it in the place of execution?People wonder how records are lost to history and confused….this is why! As a history fanatic I do not understand why they wouldn’t show the places or a map to show the real places,when people like me spend money to see these places and we r lied to it is frustrating and well kind of sad also.These people deserve to have the truth known.

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  19. BoleynBlue says:

    I went to the Tower about three years ago, and I really do wish that I had found this site before I visited, I know now that I paid my respects in the wrong place. At least it gives me an excuse to return there, I live a short train ride from there so all I

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    BoleynBlue Reply:

    continued..

    So all I have to do is convince my Husband to take me back there, which is a lot harder than it sounds.

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