On this day in history, 19th May 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn was executed within the confines of the Tower of London.
Afterwards, her remains were laid to rest in the chancel of the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London.
I thought I’d share with you some contemporary accounts of Anne’s execution.
Chronicler Edward Hall:
“[…] the Quene was with a sworde beheaded within the Tower. And these folowyng were the woordes that she spake the day of her death whiche was the xix. day of May, 1536.
Good Christen people, I am come hether to dye, for accordyng to the lawe and by the lawe I am iudged to dye, and therefore I wyll speake nothyng against it. I am come hether to accuse no man, nor to speake any thing of that wherof I am accused and condempned to dye, but I pray God saue the king and send him long to reigne ouer you, for a gentler nor a more mercyfull prince was there neuer: and to me he was euer a good, a gentle, & soueraigne lorde. And if any persone will medle of my cause, I require them to iudge the best. And thus I take my leue of the worlde and of you all, and I heartely desyre you all to pray for me. O lorde haue mercy on me, to God I comende my soule And then she kneled doune saying: To Christ I commende my soule, lesu receiue my soule, diuers tymes, till that her head was stryken of with the sworde. And on the Assencion day folowyng, the kyng ware whyte for mournyng.”
Charles Wriothesley, chronicler and Windsor Herald:
“The Fridaye following, beinge the 19th day of May, 1536, and the 28th yeare of King Henry the VIIIth, at eight of the clocke in the morninge, Anne Bulleyn, Queene, was brought to execution on the greene within the Tower of London, by the great White Tower; the Lord Chauncelloure of England, the Duke of Richmond, Duke of Suffolke, with the moste of the Kings Councell, as erles, lordes, and nobles of this realme, beinge present at the same; allso the Major of London, with the Alldermen and Sheriffs, and certayne of the best craftes of London, beinge there present allso. On a scaffolde made there for the sayde execution the sayde Queen Ann sayde thus: Maisters, I here humblye submitt me to the lawe as the lawe hath judged me, and as for myne offences, I here accuse no man, God knoweth them; I remitt them to God, beseeching him to have mercye on my sowle, and I beseche Jesu save my sovereigne and maister the Kinge, the moste godlye, noble, and gentle Prince that is, and longe to reigne over yow; which wordes were spoken with a goodlye smilinge countenance; and this done, she kneeled downe on her knees and sayde: To Jesu Christe I commend my sowle; and suddenlye the hangman smote of her heade at a stroke with a sworde; her bodye with the head was buried in the Chappell within the Tower of London, in the queere there, the same daye at afternoone, when she had reygned as Queene three yeares, lackinge 14 dayes, from her coronation to her death.”
The Chronicle of Calais:
“The xix. of May qwene Ann Boleyn was behedyd in the Towre of London, by the hands of the hangman of Caleis, with the swerde of Caleis.”
Raphael Holinshed’s chronicle:
“On the nineteenth of Maie queene Anne was on a scaffold (made for that purpose) vpon the greene within the tower of London, beheaded with the sword of Calis, by the hands of the hangman of that towne: hir bodie with the head was buried in the queere of the chappell in the tower.
The words of queene Anne at hir death.
GOOD Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am iudged to die, and therfore I will speake nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speake anie thing of that whereof I am accused & condemned to die, but I praie God saue the king and send him long to rcigne ouer you, for a gentler, nor a more merciful prince was there neuer, and to me he was euer a good, a gentle, and a souereigne lord. And if anie person will meddle of my cause, I require them to iudge the best. And thus I take my leaue of the world, and of you all, and I hartilie desire you all to praie for me, Oh Lord haue mercie on me, to God I commend my soule, Iesu receiue my soule : diuerse times repeting those words, till that hir head was striken off with the sword.”
An account in the Vienna Archives:
“The said Queen (unjustly called) finally was beheaded upon a scaffold within the Tower with open gates. She was brought by the captain upon the said scaffold, and four young ladies followed her. She looked frequently behind her, and when she got upon the scaffold was very much exhausted and amazed. She begged leave to speak to the people, promising to say nothing but what was good. The captain gave her leave, and she began to raise her eyes to Heaven, and cry mercy to God and to the King for the offence she had done, desiring the people always to pray to God for the King, for he was a good, gentle, gracious, and amiable prince. She was then stripped of her short mantle furred with ermines, and afterwards took off her hood, which was of English make, herself. A young lady presented her with a linen cap, with which she covered her hair, and she knelt down, fastening her clothes about her feet, and one of the said ladies bandaged her eyes.
Immediately the executioner did his office; and when her head was off it was taken by a young lady and covered with a white cloth. Afterwards the body was taken by the other ladies, and the whole carried into the church nearest to the Tower of London. It is said that she was condemned to be burned alive, but that the King commuted her sentence to decapitation. Thus, he who wrote this billet says that, according to old writings, he has seen the prophecy of Marlin fulfilled.”
Martyrologist John Foxe:
“The words of this worthy and christian lady at her death were these:
“Good Christian people! I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law, I am judged to death; and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I come hither to accuse no man, nor to any thing of that whereof I am accused and condemned to die; but I pray God save the king, and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler, or a more merciful prince was there never; and to me he was ever a good, a gentle, and a sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best.
And thus I take my leave of the world, and of you all, and I
heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me!
To God I commend my soul.”
And so she kneeled down, saying,
“To Christ I commend my soul:” “Jesu, receive my soul.”
Repeating the same divers times, till at length the stroke was given, and her head was stricken off.
And this was the end of that godly lady and queen. Godly I call her, for sundry respects, whatsoever the cause was, or quarrel objected against her. First, her last words spoken at her death declared no less her sincere faith and trust in Christ, than did her quiet modesty utter forth the goodness of the cause and matter, whatsoever it was. Besides that to such as wisely can judge upon cases occurrent, this also may seem to give a great clearing unto her, that the king, the third day after, was married in his whites unto another. Certain this was, that for the rare and singular gifts of her mind, so well instructed, and given toward God, with such a fervent desire unto the truth and setting forth of sincere religion, joined with like gentleness, modesty, and pity toward all men, there have not many such queens before her borne the crown of England. Principally this one commendation she left behind her, that during her life, the religion of Christ most happily flourished, and had a right prosperous course.”
RIP Queen Anne Boleyn 19 May 1536.
Notes and Sources
- Hall, Edward (1809) Hall’s chronicle : containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, J. Johnson, p. 819.
- Wriothesley, Charles (1875) A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559 Volume 1, Camden Society, p. 41-42.
- ed. Gough Nichols, John (1838) The Chronicle of Calais in the Reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII to the year 1540, p. 47.
- Holinshed, Raphael (1807) Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, Volume III, J. Johnson, p. 797.
- Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume X, 911.
- ed. Cumming, John (1844) Fox’s Book of Martyrs: The Acts and Monuments of the Church, Volume 2 by John Fox, George Virtue, p. 406-407.