Most people know that Anne Boleyn was executed on 19th May 1536, but what not many people realise is that her execution was actually scheduled for 18th May and 9am.
Anne had prepared for her death. She had been praying since 2am with her almoner1 and she celebrated mass with Archbishop Cranmer just after dawn. She asked Sir William Kingston to be present while she took the Sacrament, so that he would hear her swearing on the Blessed Sacrament that she had not been unfaithful to the King and pass the information on to Cromwell and the King. She swore on it twice, once before she took the body of Christ and once after.2
Anne then made arrangements for the customary distribution of alms using the £20 given to her by the King for this purpose, and then prayed as she waited for Kingston to come and escort her to the scaffold that had been built within the grounds of the Tower. 9am came and went, so a worried Anne sent for Kingston wanting to know if her execution would be at noon instead. Kingston knew, by now, that the execution was being postponed until the next day because he had received orders from Cromwell to clear the Tower of foreigners, but he did not tell Anne. He tried to comfort Anne, explaining that her execution would not be painful and that the blow was “so subtle”. To this, Anne replied with characteristic black humour, “I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck”, after which she put her hands around her throat and laughed heartily.3 Kingston reported Anne’s composure to Cromwell, saying that “thys lady hasse mech joy and plesure in dethe”.4
Anne spent the morning praying with her almoner and when noon passed without anything happening Kingston informed her that her execution had been postponed until the following morning. We can only imagine how Anne had felt each time she had heard footsteps near her apartments that day. Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador, wrote of how Anne was sorry that she had not died that die, “not that she desired death, but thought herself prepared to die and feared that delay would weaken her”.5 According to him, she then “consoled her ladies several times, telling them that was not a thing to be regretted by Christians, and she hoped to be quit of all unhappiness, with various other good counsels.”
She was to spend another night praying and preparing for her death.
Notes and Sources
- Some sources say that Anne’s almoner, John Skip, was with her and others (Younghusband, The Tower from Within, 131) say that it was her confessor, Father Thirwell.
- LP x. 908
- LP x. 910
- Ibid., 1036