18 May 1536 – This lady has much joy and pleasure in death

Posted By on May 18, 2016

lady in the Tower edouard cibotQueen Anne Boleyn’s execution had been scheduled for 18th May 1536, so carpenters worked through the night of the 17th building a new scaffold “before the House of Ordnance”1 and Anne Boleyn prepared herself for death by praying with her almoner.2

At dawn, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer arrived to hear her final confession and to celebrate the Mass with her. Anne asked for Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London and a man who was sending daily reports to Cromwell regarding Anne Boleyn’s words and behaviour, to be present while she took the sacrament. In his presence, she swore twice on the sacrament, before and after receiving the body of Christ, that she had never been unfaithful to the King. Kingston passed this information on to Cromwell, but it didn’t change anything, Anne had been found guilty of high treason by a jury of her peers, and now she had to pay the price.3

Anne then made arrangements for the customary distribution of alms, using the £20 given to her by the King for this purpose, before getting back to her prayers and waiting for Kingston to collect her for her execution.

By 9 o’clock, nothing had happened, and Anne had heard that her execution might be postponed until noon, so she sent for Kingston to find out what was going on. We can only imagine what she was going through. When he arrived, she told him what she’d heard, commenting that she was sorry if it was true because “I thought to be dead by this time, and past my pain”. By this time, Kingston had been notified that Anne’s execution was being postponed until the following day because Cromwell had asked him to clear the Tower of foreigners, but he didn’t tell Anne. He sought to comfort her, though, by explaining that her death would be quick and the blow from the sword “so subtle”. At this, Anne replied “I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck” and laughed as she put her hands around her throat”. A shocked Kingston reported back to Cromwell that “this lady has much joy and pleasure in death”.4

In those last awful hours, Anne was also able to joke with her ladies, saying that she’d go down in history as “la Royne Anne Sans Tete” or ‘Queen Anne Lackhead’.5

When noon had passed, and her execution still hadn’t taken place, Kingston finally informed Anne that her execution had been postponed until the following day. Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, heard that “Anne appeared very sorry, praying the Captain of the Tower that for the honor of God he would beg the King that, since she was in good state and disposed for death, she might be dispatched immediately”.6 Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador, in his “Poeme sur la mort d’Anne Boleyn”, wrote:

“but when she perceived
That the appointed hour had passed
In her spirit she was dismayed,
And then she showed displeasure
That her hour had been delayed
Not that she desired death
But it seemed to her that she was prepared
To make a good death, and she believed that waiting
Did not weaken her and took it with grace.”

Despite her own feelings, Anne was able to comfort her ladies:

” […] seeing her ladies tormented
With great worry, [she] comforted them
Several times, saying to them that death
For Christians does not require comfort,
Since life eternal is in heaven,
Beyond the danger of the vicious world:
And for this reason they must not complain of her death
Because she hopes assuredly to reach
These happy and prosperous places,
Leaving here all infelicities.
Thus she taught her ladies well
That one must have disdain for this world
Where all is obsolete and transitory,
To hope in the eternal glory.”7

I can only hope that Anne’s faith did bring her comfort in those last hours which were so cruelly drawn out for her.

Notes and Sources

Image: Anne Boleyn à la Tour de Londres (1835), Edouard Cibot.

  1. Lisle Letters, Volume 3, 698, John Husee to Lord Lisle, 19 May 1536: “And Anne the late Queen suffered with sword this day, within the Tower, upon a new scaffold;”; Ives, Eric (2004) The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, p. 423, note 1: “She was beheaded on a new scaffold ‘before the house of Ordnance’, i.e. on what is now the parade ground north of the White Tower”, citing “Antony Antony in Herbert, Henry VIII (1679), facing p.385.”
  2. Some say she prayed with her almoner John Skip, others say it was her confessor Father Thirwell.
  3. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10 – January-June 1536, 908, 910.
  4. Ibid, 910.
  5. Sergeant, Anne Boleyn: A Study, 269.
  6. LP X. 908.
  7. Lancelot de Carles’ “Poeme sur la mort d’Anne Boleyn”, in Georges Ascoli’s 1927 La Grande-Bretagne devant l’opinion française depuis la guerre de cent ans jusqu’a la fin du XVIe siecle, lines 1156 – 1164, 1167-1180 translated from French in “Anne Boleyn, Lancelot de Carle, and the Uses of Documentary Evidence” by Susan Walters Schmid, Arizona State University, December 2009.

19 thoughts on “18 May 1536 – This lady has much joy and pleasure in death”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I am sure she would not have gone to her death with any guilt on her conscience, therefore, she was undoubtedly innocent of these charges.

  2. Joyce VandenBerg says:

    Imagine preparing for your own death. That is difficult enough but then, being at last as ready as one can be – physically, mentally and psychologically – then to be told that your death had been postponed.

  3. Banditqueen says:

    Anne was innocent and the further evidence is that she declared it so on pain of her immortal soul that she was innocent before taking the Blessed Sacrament and making her final confession. Anne was hopeful that Henry might spare her, but even so, that the world should know the truth, as she gave leave for the witnesses Kingston and Cranmer to let people know what she had declared.

    The torment for Anne was worse than that of the men as she was prepared to die, told the hour and then it was delayed three times. Did she believe still that she would be reprieved? Who knows? Anne did plead with Cranmer that the clergy could help her, she had been visited and given hope the day before. Now she was told how she would die, prepared her soul and mind, dressed for the execution, to be told, death at nine, then noon, then the next day. Now I am confident that Anne would have preferred to be alive, but not to go through such torment and anguish. No, this was poorly done.

  4. Susan says:

    Poor poor lady what she must have been thinking in her final hours makes me feel so sad .what a cold calculating man Henry was I wonder if he had nightmares about what he had done he stalked her then murderd her so cruel and viscios.I am so she lived on through her daughter confident ,intelligent , strong , ambitious, loving , generous, and quick tempered RIP. Great lady !!

  5. Susan says:

    Ooops I meant I am so sure !!

  6. Christine says:

    She had been told there was a chance she could go to a nunnery at least something Cranmer had told her made her believe this was possible as she did speak of it, and that’s what I find so cruel as Henry it seemed was playing mind games with her, did he really think Anne had deceived him, it’s hard to say but to be told that she was going to die one day and then it was delayed must have been dreadful for her and speaks volumes of Henrys hatred towards her, he appeared to want to make her suffer, she really had to have nerves of steel at this moment and her calm demeanour in her last hours shows supreme self control and of the knowledge that she was going to paradise, this was helped by the fact that she knew she was innocent and it gave her peace of mind.

  7. Frances says:

    I heard in a documentary that the letter from Kingston to Cromwell about Anne declaring her innocence in her last prayers, was later found in Cromwell’s belongings, suggesting they never even made it to the king…

  8. Kate says:

    Do we know who Anne’s ladies were?

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, we know the ladies appointed to serve her in the Tower, I list them at https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/anne-boleyns-ladies-in-waiting/ – Lady Kingston, Lady Shelton, Margaret Coffin, Lady Boleyn and Mrs Stoner.

  9. Amreeta Sen says:

    Anne’s only fault was that she had been most unjustly cruel to Queen Katherine and Princess Mary…but she was playing for high stakes…if they flourished she would not! Alas! Karma took swift and bloody revenge…

    1. Claire says:

      She certainly didn’t stop their ill treatment and had a hand in it, but she wasn’t responsible for it, the king was, and Mary’s treatment got worse after Anne’s death. Chapuys feared that Mary would be executed.

      I’m sorry, but I find it absolutely awful that anyone can call an execution on false charges “karma”. These are real people you’re talking about. The majority of historians believe Anne and the five men to be innocent of all charges. These five people had their heads cut off. They left loved ones behind.

    2. Frances says:

      If the execution was Anne’s karma, then surely Katherine’s downfall must have been her karma too?

      Karma is such BS, and people don’t even think critically about it. There is no karma about false charges, a biased court, and a cruel execution without justice.

      1. Tidus says:

        Frances I love your post and totally agree. People make these comments
        about people they don’t like but don’t apply the same to those they do like.
        By those karma’s standards what happened to Catherine of Aragon
        Jane Seymour would be karma also.

        1. Banditqueen says:

          None of it was Karma and Karma refers to the after life not some imagination of pay back in this one on the wrong people. Karma is about learning the lessons of life so people can do better in the next one and finally achieve total perfection and peace. Anne’s execution wasn’t Karma, it was unjust. Katherine of Aragon suffered at her husband’s hands because she believed she was right and Henry would not be defied. Jane Seymour died because lots of people died after childbirth and possibly because of a complication they couldn’t fix, not because of Karma. The fate of his third wife was a tragedy and had nothing to do with mystical superstition. The fate of his first two wives was because of deliberate acts by Henry Viii, not Karma.

  10. Dawn Young says:

    Was Henry in hiding during this time?

    1. Claire says:

      No, he wasn’t. He’d been reported as being out gallivanting with ladies but by this time Jane had been brought to Chelsea, near his own lodgings, so he would have been spending time with her.

  11. Anne’s last words were written down, but we will never know the tone in which she uttered them.
    “… but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord.”

    When reading this bit, I often wondered if she said it with sarcasm.

    Probably not. She knew that if she said anything against Henry from the scaffold, it would most likely end up hurting Elizabeth.

    I have a very old book of Henry’s love letters to Anne, and every time I read it, I think of how things ended between them. He seems to have hated her at the end with the same passion that he loved her in the beginning.

    It’s an intriguing story that hasn’t lost it’s appeal in 500 years and will continue to do for centuries to come.

  12. Banditqueen says:

    Anne was prepared for death because she had made her peace with the Lord. She had confessed her innocence and received Him in Communion. She had hoped to be spared but that morning she had been told it was time for her to die and she accepted her fate and prepared her soul. Anne had dressed, called her almoner, prayed and had the inner resolve to face the frightening death awaiting her in the courtyard. The delay must have been even harder to take, especially now she knew death was a real certainty in just hours. She had been to the brink and back, hoping for mercy and life and maybe confinement to a nunnary but now she had seen that hope taken from her and must prepare to face the ultimate test. Anne was ready in her mind and soul but now she was suddenly and cruelly faced with a delay. The executioner had been delayed and Cromwell wanted to clear the Tower of foreigners before her execution, but Anne was so focused on death that she didn’t want any delays. She had mentally and spiritually prepared for her death but now she was confused and had to go through it all again. Nobody should be too hasty to wish for death, every moment of life is precious and Anne would have delighted in it if she could escape the execution, but her fate was merely delayed, not reprieved. To Anne this delay was no blessing, it meant more lack of sleep, more fear as her mind was now troubled again, a night of worry and more prayer, waiting, nightmares, more discomfort with the women spying on her and doubts about how she could face this again. Anne managed to take her mind away from that which awaited her by talking to her ladies about happier times and unable to rest, due to the noise of the men constructing her scaffold, she spent many hours in prayer. In the morning Anne was prepared and her resolve and dignity did not fail.

  13. Kelsey says:

    Though I followed your posts last year heavily throughout the month of May, I find myself doing so again this year and it’s hitting me even harder than it did before. Anne has meant a lot to me for quite some time but thanks to this site and a few other sources, I’ve really learned much more about Anne and countless other figures of this time. Thank you for all the work you do and for helping myself as well as others know the incredible Anne as deeply as we can.

    May 17th was hard for me as I adore and admire George but I’m already feeling the affects of May 19th (it only just turned the 19th, a bit past midnight for me). I’ve spent a lot of time weeping for Anne and the others unjustly executed along with her and I’ll spend the day honoring her as I can. Proudly wearing my Boleyn “B” necklace among other things.

    Thank you for providing us a place to mourn the great loss that occurred 482 years ago and for also allowing us a place to celebrate her life. <3

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