On the night of the 17th/18th May 1536, while the carpenters built her scaffold within the grounds of the Tower of London, Anne prepared herself for her execution which was scheduled for 9am on the 18th. At 2am, her almoner, John Skip, arrived to pray with her and she was still in prayer when Archbishop Cranmer arrived just after dawn to hear her final confession and celebrate the Mass.

The Sacrament

As Anne Boleyn thought she would be dying in just a few hours, she wanted the Sacrament and she asked for Sir William Kingston, the Constable of the Tower, to be present. As Anne took the sacrament she swore on the sacrament twice, before and after receiving the body of Christ, that she had not been unfaithful to the King, as Chapuys reported in a letter to Charles V:-

“The lady who had charge of her has sent to tell me in great secresy that the Concubine, before and after receiving the sacrament, affirmed to her, on the damnation of her soul, that she had never been unfaithful to the King.”1

Anne obviously wanted Kingston to pass this information on to Cromwell and he did:-

“This morning she sent for me, that I might be with her at such time as she received the good Lord, to the intent I should her speak as touching her innocency alway to be clear.”2

It changed nothing. Anne could have sworn her innocence until she was blue in the face but the swordsman of Calais was on his way, the scaffold was being erected and her marriage had been annulled. Anne had been abandoned by Henry VIII and she was to suffer death.

Eric Ives writes of how Anne made arrangements for the distribution of the £20 that the King had given her to give to the people as alms, and then she waited for 9am, the moment she thought she would take her final walk. She went back to her prayers.

Not Today

When nothing happened at 9am, Anne sent for Kingston. She had heard that her execution had been postponed until noon:-

“Master Kingston, I hear say I shall not die afore noon, and I am very sorry there fore, for I thought to be dead by his time and past my pain.”3

Ives points out that Kingston knew full well that Anne was not being executed that day as he had received orders from Cromwell to clear the Tower of foreigners, perhaps so that foreign diplomats could not send home sympathetic reports of Anne’s execution. Kingston kept Anne in the dark for a while longer and tried to comfort her by explaining that her execution would not be painful and that the blow was “so subtle”. To this, Anne replied in her rather black humour, “I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck” and then she put her hands around her throat and laughed.4

Anne’s black humour in those dark hours showed through as she joked with her ladies that the people would be able to give her the nickname “la Royne Anne Sans Tete” or Queen Anne Lackhead, and then she laughed5. Those hours of waiting and not knowing what was going on must have been pure hell for Anne as she had prepared herself to die that day. She was finally put out of her misery when noon passed and Kingston informed her that her execution had been postponed until the next day, the 19th. According to Chapuys, “when the command came to put off the execution till today [19th], she 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 and Lanceleot de Carles has her adding that it was “not that she desired death, but she had thought herself prepared to die, and feared that the delay might weaken her resolve”7, but there was nothing that Kingston could do to ease Anne’s suffering. All Anne could do was return to prayer and wait.

Notes and Sources

  1. L&P x.908
  2. Quoted in Weir p251
  3. Wolsey, ed. Singer, p460-1, quoted in Ives
  4. L&P x.910
  5. Quoted in Weir p255
  6. L&P x.908
  7. Lancelot de Carles, cited in Weir p254

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9 thoughts on “18th May 1536 – Postponement and Prayer”
  1. In my opinion, that is the worst thing Anne had to suffer along with the fact that she was leaving behind her beloved daughter. I can’t imagine how she must have felt when the execution was postponed twice!! Awful..

  2. brave lady and queen rest in peace a time live at ime to die and anne died with courage and grace

  3. These last days must have been so horrible for Anne! I understand very well that the postponement of her execution didn’t relief her but made it even more dreadful. For I think the waiting must have been unbearable. Also, as weird as it sounds, I can unterstand that she’d felt prepared to die on this day and that the posteponment made everything pretty mixed up.
    I feel so sorry for Anne! It’s just so sad und so unjust!

  4. Interesting to see all these quotes, especially ones like de Carles’. Many of these were written into Anne’s dialogue in her final episode of “The Tudors,” and I thought that while they had included some of her famous quotes, I didn’t know they had included so many more. Kudos to the writers for having done their research, and even though much of the show was an example of throwing research aside for dramatic license, they stuck to history where it counted.

  5. Poor poor Anne. It seems rather cruel on Kingston’s part not to have told her that her execution was being delayed even further right away. And such dark humor! It makes me want to cry and laugh at the same time! Great article again!

  6. It must’ve been so awful for Anne to be prepared for death and then discover that she had to wait in misery even longer.

  7. anne a woman of faih and grace died well rest in peace cant belive 474 years have gone but shes not forgotten queen marys motto was truth the daughter of time i think the truth will come about and wil come out this time queen anne most high and virtuoes queen. ot but i think the french hood is aform of hijab modesty but tudor style rest in peace blave and couragous lady and queen

  8. Najmah, that the French and gabled hoods were a form of hijab, worn for modesty is pretty close to the mark. I read that in Medieval times, the Catholic Church needed to figure out a way to explain the Virgin Birth of Jesus, and decided that the Virgin Mary had conceived through her ear, when she heard from the angel that she had conceived.

    The Catholic Church then decided that the ear was a part of the anatomy that should NOT be shown, since it was a private part, hence pictures, reliefs and statues of Medieval and Renaissance European women with some sort of head covering, especially over their ears.

    Anyone who is more versed in history is free to correct me if I am wrong. 🙂


    Anne, I think, was devastated by the news, after all her preparation, that she was not going to be executed. Not that she really wanted to be, of course, but she just wanted to get it over with. Thus, she covered her true feelings with black humor – “I have heard the executioner is good, and I have a little neck,” as well as the famous “La Royne Anna sans tete” or Queen Anne Lackhead.

    I wish I could go back in time, and make Anne, George and the other men (Brereton, Norris, Weston and Smeaton) conveniently disappear before their executions, and drive Henry crazy(er) wondering where they were, and if they were going to come back to get him.

    1. Covering your head as a married woman was actually very old and has nothing to do with the explanation above, which isn’t true. The hair was regarded as a woman’s crowning glory and it was to honour the glory of God that it was covered up. Married women covered their head as a sign of modesty and their status as a married woman. Hair was left loose as a sign of virginity at marriage and at a coronation. A girl looking for a boyfriend decorated her hair to show that they were ready for marriage. It was about modesty, not weird stories invented about the Church and the anatomy of the body. Yes, the Virgin Mary was used as an example of purity not no she wasn’t described or presented as on this post. A hijab is a head covering but no its not the same as a Medieval headdress. All Muslim women wear them from the age of 9 in most countries and certainly by the age of 11 or 12, not just married women. A Muslim woman wears them in the presence of a man who isn’t a male relative or her husband and doesn’t normally wear them in private or around just women. Single and married women wear them and its not compulsory, save in strict Islamic states. The hijab is religious, the niquab isn’t. Medieval women in most Christian countries wore a headdress after marriage and simply for modesty.

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