Queen Anne Boleyn’s execution was scheduled to take place on this day in Tudor history, 18th May 1536, so the imprisoned queen prepared herself for her execution.

However, later that day, Anne received news that her execution had been postponed.

Why was her execution postponed?

How did Anne prepare herself?

What exactly happened on this day in 1536?

Find out in this video:

Here’s the transcript:

Thursday 18th May 1536 had been the day chosen for Queen Anne Boleyn to die, “to be burned or beheaded as shall please the King”, so Anne had spent the night of 17th/18th praying with her almoner and preparing for her death, while carpenters worked on a brand new scaffold. The king, in his mercy, had decided that she should be beheaded and he had ordered the famous executioner of Calais to behead her by sword.

At dawn, her friend Archbishop Cranmer arrived to hear her final confession and to celebrate the mass with her. Anne took this opportunity to swear her innocence in front of witnesses. She asked for her gaoler, and a man who was writing daily reports to Thomas Cromwell, Sir William Kingston, to be present while she took the sacrament. She then swore her innocence twice on the sacrament, before and after receiving the body of Christ. Kingston passed this information on to Cromwell.

Anne then made arrangements for alms to be distributed, and then went back to her prayers and preparation.

But Kingston didn’t come to collect her. He’d been ordered by Cromwell to postpone Anne’s execution and to clear the Tower of all foreigners. Anne sent for him, telling him that she “thought to be dead by this time, and past my pain”, but Kingston didn’t inform her of the postponement, although he did try to comfort her by telling her that the blow from the sword would be “so subtle”. 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. Kingston was rather shocked by her reaction and reported back to Cromwell that “this lady has much joy and pleasure in death”.

Anne also joked with the ladies attending her, saying that she’d become known as “la Royne Anne Sans Tete” or ‘Queen Anne Lackhead’.

When her execution still hadn’t happened by noon, Kingston informed Anne that her execution had been postponed until the following day. I can’t imagine how Anne must have felt preparing for her death and then being told that it wasn’t going to happen until the next day. It’s bad enough when I have a dental procedure or something like that postponed! Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, recorded what he’d heard of Anne’s reaction “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”. Poor Anne!

Also on this day in 1536, according to a Frenchman writing to Thomas Cromwell, “the wax tapers about Queen Catherine’s tomb had been lighted of their own accord”. Hmmmm….

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2 thoughts on “18 May 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn prepares for her execution”
  1. Poor Anne indeed, I can only hope that her female attendants were much kinder to her than they had been, as the days had slipped by they must have come to admire this forsaken lady, they had witnessed her pleas for justice her moods ranging from hysterical wild laughter one minute, to the depths of despair the next, in the first days with her, they probably felt to that she would be eventually set free, they thought she may retire to a nunnery and the drama would be over with, the men might be imprisoned a bit longer but eventually set free, although banished from court, their lands and titles forfeited, after all no queen had ever been publicly put on trial and sentenced to death, it was unprecedented therefore they, like their mercurial mistress must have thought it would all be over one day and they would return to court, and Anne they would see no more, but it was not to be and when she was sentenced to death they must have been as shocked as Anne, as the days turned into nights and the days up to her execution crept by, they too must have begun to be fearful and animosity must have turned to pity, one of these ladies was her own aunt, Lady Shelton and must have known the queen since she was a child, alone together in the queens apartments they would have tended to her, read to her, they may have all worked their embroidery together, and Anne may have allowed them some wine and they would have chatted and sung together, it is awful when we know she had prepared herself for death on the eighteenth of May only to be told it was postponed, she had summoned the strength to meet her end with courage, now she had to get through another day and night, it is sheer wonder that she managed to hold herself together for the remainder of the day, she could have drunk more and tried to cheer herself up, no matter she must have told herself soon it will all be over, one can hear her saying that, Anne was known for her bravery, someone once said of her she was as brave as a lion, she had battled the sweating sickness and won, she had stamina and strength, she had dared say no to King Henry V111, she had taken the throne from a much loved queen, from mere mistress to take the place at the kings side, that makes her unique in English history but now all she had won she had lost, Cranmer her close friend came to visit her and the two of them knelt and prayed together, she was given alms to hand to the executioner, this was customary and yet it is a strange custom, to me it reminds me of the ferryman Charon in Greek mythology, who had to been given some money from the dead before he would row them to the underworld, she then called Kingston as her witness and before him and Cranmer she swore on the blessed sacrament that she had been a true and loyal wife to the king, she had never offended him with her body she said, this ritual was very significant amongst the Tudors because to lie on the sacrament meant eternal damnation, it was reported back to Cromwell who informed the king but it mattered little to him, he maybe deep down thought she really was a sorceress as he had said once bitterly on the death of his son, it was not taken seriously, he was grieving at the queens miscarriage, but certainly he had been in thrall to her for many years, now he must have thought she could well have been Satan’s handmaiden, for swearing on the blessed sacrament when she was condemned for whoring about his kingdom, but it must have meant a lot to Kingston and Cranmer was convinced of her innocence I believe, he knew of the kings interest in Jane Seymour and there were rumours swirling about at court, Henry had had Jane kept at arms length but she was now at Chelsea and was being feted as if she were queen already, once rumours have broken out, they spread like wildfire, people must have heard about her and Cranmer secretly must have been disgusted at the kings treatment of the queen, Anne’s women also being women, always side with the wronged wife, they also must have witnessed or heard that she had sworn on the sacrament, in fact everything about Anne’s behaviour smacks of the innocent, and those who came into contact with her must have believed it as well, for the rest of the evening she gave herself up to prayers she must have longed for death now she had lost all that was dear to her, she was no longer queen she would never see her daughter again, her beloved brother was dead, she probably did not want to sleep, soon she would be asleep forever.

  2. In some ways this must have been worse than the actual day of execution because Anne didn’t know if or when she was to die or what the hold up was. She had risen very early in the morning, made her confession, received communion and absolution and then carefully dressed for her execution. Anne prepared very carefully with her Almoner and dressed very carefully.

    Earlier when taking Communion and making her confession, Anne had William Kingston witness this and swore twice that she was innocent, thus proving herself to be so because she was about to die and her contemporaries saw such a statement of truth as sacred and many were astonished by her statement. Anne said that she had never offended him with her body. Anne wanted witnesses in order to tell the King and Cromwell that she had vowed her innocence on the Blessed Sacrament. She hoped that this might change things, but it didn’t.

    Anne was to die, first at 9 a. m and then at noon, but ultimately the delay was for the next day. Anne dressed well, her hair was done, she wore an English gable hood, plainer and more modest than the French hood, a scarlet under garment and a grey and scarlet dress and ermine cloak. She was dressed as a Queen and she was mentally prepared for the blade. However, the Warden didn’t come for her and she wanted to know why.

    Kingston didn’t admit to Anne that her execution had been put back 24 hours, probably because she wasn’t very sane at that point. Anne wanted it over and done with and was actually disappointed that her death was delayed. She was concerned that her resolve might falter and began to question Kingston about the skill of the swordsman. She joked about having a little neck. Talk about gallows humour. She then complained again when noon came and it was not yet time for her execution. Anne wanted everything to be over and she was concerned about how she would be if she had to face another night. Anne was losing her nerve and she was using conversation to cover her fear and anxiety.

    Kingston finally told her the truth, that she would die the next day. Anne, he wrote to Cromwell rejoiced in death. She seemed too anxious to die, but perhaps she was just hiding the fear that, having prepared herself once, knowing now that she had to do so all over again, that she may not be as brave as she now appeared. She had prayed with her Almoner and so was spirituality prepared for death. Anme was a lady of faith, but even she feared her resolve failing before the crowd waiting to witness the execution of a Queen.

    Cromwell wanted to clear the courtyard in the Tower and the dwellings around of foreigners in order not to be made to look foolish and be criticised abroad. Some people also say that the executioner wasn’t there and that’s possible. It wasn’t a cruel ploy by the King, it was unavoidable. It might be more than Anne could take but at least she had one more night of life. However, someone left a gate open and over 1000 people gathered on the parade ground the next day, the actual site of Anne’s execution, desperate for a sight of the last moments of a Queen of England.

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