Queen Anne Boleyn had been found guilty of high treason by a jury of her peers in a trial on 15th May 1536. She had been sentenced “to be burned or beheaded as shall please the King” and then her sentence was commuted to beheading by sword.

Thursday 18th May 1536 was the date chosen for her execution, so Anne spent the night of 17th/18th preparing for death by praying with her almoner. She then made her last confession and celebrated the Mass with Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and a man who had been her good friend. She took the opportunity to swear her innocence on the sacrament, thus putting her soul in mortal danger if she was lying, and then made arrangements for the traditional distribution of alms. Once this was done, Anne waited for Sir William Kingston to come and escort her to the scaffold.

Anne waited and waited, only to be told later that day that her execution was being postponed!

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Picture: Anne Boleyn in the Tower by Edouard Cibot.

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3 thoughts on “18 May 1536 – A queen prepares to die”
  1. The only reason to clear the tower of foreigners is you know that the sentence about to be carried out is unjust and you don’t want word of it getting out and going across the channel. Poor Anne. Prepared for death and at peace with her fate and then the postponement and again waiting. More cruelty perpetrated by her former husband and Cromwell.

  2. Poor Anne had come to terms that she was to die this day and had spent the time in prayer and had sworn on the blessed sacrament that she was innocent, this she had done in the company of Kingston who she knew would report it back to Cromwell and thus the King, this was hugely significant as Anne known for her piety would not have put her mortal soul in danger, it tells us a lot to, nearly five hundred years later, all Tudors wished to go to paradise and Anne was sure she would so why should she condemn herself to the flames? Kingston who was with her many a time in the Tower must have had mixed feelings about this strange mercurial woman who not so very long before had been his queen, her mixture of emotions baffled him, he had greeted her on her coronation three years before when resplendent in gold she had walked through the Towers steps in glory, now she was a most pitiable figure, alternately sorrowful and cheerful as she knelt in prayer, Cranmer with her, he loved this woman who had been his champion and he resolved to assist her in this her darkest hour, little realising he too would be so condemned years later and would himself be praying on the eve of his death, Anne had prepared herself to die on the eighteenth then told she would die on the nineteenth, her thoughts must have been in turmoil, as she must have said to herself over again, not long now and it will all be over, then she had to live through another night, her ladies whom she had never liked now maybe had softened towards her as they lived with her, the harrowing atmosphere must have had its toll on them to, her aunt Lady Boleyn must have realised how dreadful this would be for the family she had married into and she spent some time comforting them, how could these women not be moved by what was happening to their mistress? She said that immortal line, ‘the people will call me Queen Anne lackhead’ which has gone down in history, Kingston said she had much pleasure in death as well she might, she had lost everything she had striven for and gained, she had lost her beloved brother, she had lost her husband and would never see her child again, her good name had been defamed, her marriage was annulled and now Henry was saying it had never been, her daughter was therefore a bastard just like Mary and Fitzroy, her family would never have glory again and must have been in despair, being very close to her mother she would have suffered anxieties over her well being and feared what her death would do to her, her father was of a much stronger mettle and she knew he would survive because he had to, but they had lost George and now were going to lose their brilliant clever daughter, it was only natural she would fear for them, there was a tale that her sister Marys child Catherine Carey was in the Tower with her, but she would have been considered too young and besides, I doubt Mary would have approved of her daughter having to bear the misery that must have been apparent in Annes apartments, what torment did this queen go through that long ago day in 1536, she not have a breakdown like her sister in law Lady Rochford did when it was found she had been accomplice in Catherines Howard’s affair, she had gone through all the emotions of fear and hysteria in the first days of her arrest, she had suffered the trial then been hopeful of going into a nunnery, then she had been told she was going to die, Anne had always been brave, a contemporary of hers had once said she was as brave as a lion, certainly as a young girl she had been blessed with supreme self confidence that allowed her to say no to the King in the first place, others had been in awe of him men as well as women, no woman had ever dared to say no to Henry before indeed, maybe they did not want to, he was handsome and also the King, to women power is more attractive than good looks, he was irresistible but to Anne he was not, ruthlessly she played a game with him and at the end she became the winner, her prize – the crown of England, but as she sat in her lonely fortress her thoughts must have gone back to those long ago days of glory when fate shone on her, and it seemed she could have everything she wanted, Thomas Boleyn must have pondered also that he had not wanted his youngest daughter to become involved with the King in the first place, he had tried to stop it and in the early days must have tried to give her sound advice, but when do daughters listen to their fathers, too late they realise they were right, Thomas had known the King for years, he had seen heads fall all too easily, Buckinghams for one when not long after Henry ascended the throne, he was beheaded just because he stood close to the throne, he knew to be close to the King was most heady thrilling and dangerous, no wonder he did not want his daughters to be involved with him, he knew Annes headstrong behaviour and despaired of her treatment of this fickle King, he knew he could turn quickly affection could turn to hatred and it had done so all too easily, Annes power lay first in her sexual attraction but too late she had realised that her power lay more in giving the King a son, something which for all her other attractions she had failed to do, she must now pay the ultimate price.

  3. Anne prepared her soul for death in prayer and confession and made ready for her last hours by dressing finely and as a Queen. She took Communion and then made a powerful declaration of innocence, in the company of Sir William Kingston and others as witnesses and before Thomas Cranmer, her friend and Primate of England. Before and after taking the Consecrated Bread as the Body of Christ she swore that she had never betrayed the King by being unfaithful. This was powerful testament as it that she was innocent and people were shocked. Had a miscarriage of justice been done? For anyone to make such an oath at such a moment, when they were about to die, was to declare the truth because if Anne had lied she would put her immoral soul in danger. Everyone believed this to be so and Anne’s words cast doubt on her guilty verdict. Cranmer reported her words to Cromwell and the King but it made no difference, Anne was still set to die. Anne had said she was innocent and this was a sacred act and if she made a vow of such significance, it was meant also as solemn and true. Anne would not risk Divine Judgement and therefore her declared innocence has to be true. This more than anything is evidence of everything being set against her.

    Anne was ready to leave this world by 8 a.m and was standing ready with her chaplain at her side and those ladies who would accompany her to the scaffold. She waited with her hair dressed, in a dress of black and grey damask over a red kirtle or skirt and a cloak of ermine and a French hood. She had been given money for the poor and to pay the executioner. Anne was ready but she was told that her execution was delayed until noon and Anne was not happy. Not that she was wanting to rush to her death and in fact part of her still hoped for a reprieve. She said she had thought to be passed her pain by now and joked about having a little neck. Kingston told her that there was no pain and that the swordsman was good. When noon came and there was another delay and the executioner would not be for another day she became distressed. She asked that if it was possible for it to go ahead as she was prepared and feared her resolve would crumple if she waited again. Later when Anne relaxed for her last evening she joked about being called Anna Sans Tete Anne Lack Head and she talked about her time in the Netherlands and in France. She passed the night again in prayer and prepared herself for death once more. She committed herself to the mercy of God.

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