19 May 1536 – The end of Queen Anne Boleyn

May 18, 2019

Today is, of course, the anniversary of the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, on 19th May 1536 at the Tower of London.

In today’s video, I explain exactly what happened on this day and share Queen Anne Boleyn’s execution speech.

I’m doing these “Fall of Anne Boleyn” videos daily until 19th May and I started on 24th April. You can catch up with them on the Anne Boleyn Files and Tudor Society Youtube Channel.

You can find out more about my book The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown at http://getbook.at/fallanneboleyn.

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13 thoughts on “19 May 1536 – The end of Queen Anne Boleyn”
  1. A very brave courageous lady, Queen Anne Boleyn. I believe Henry was haunted by her for the rest of his life. I know the times were different but how he was able to do that to someone he had loved so much is beyond belief.
    I think it’s both moving and fitting that an unknown person places flowers on her grave each year.
    RIP Queen Anne

  2. Hi Claire. I’ve read your Countdown book, I’ve read this story many times and I know the sequence of events. Seeing the dates in a book is one thing, but you recounting these events in ‘real time’ really illustrated how fast this all went down. When it came to the executions though 483 years removed they felt like more than just historical events but more like current terrible news being reported especially Anne’s execution. Very powerful Thank you for bringing this travesty to life.

  3. Today the city of London is very different from the London Anne knew, it was consisted mainly of timber framed buildings and cobbled alleyways, fields surrounded the city and wooded valleys, there were bustling markets and street vendors, the rich in their carriages and the poor in their rags all made up what was the city of London in the 16th century, the Thames ever constant wound itself through the city, today that London has all but vanished, it is now a thriving metropolis, and people going about their work hardly glance at the Tower who still stands grey and imposing as she did when the Conqueror built her over a thousand years ago, many of Londons inhabitants now along with her locals are internationals and tourists, many drive past trying to escape the morning rush and as they do so they barely glance at that ancient building not realising the bloody events what went on there nearly five hundred years ago, a crowned and anointed Queen of England condemned to death by her husband the King, left her prison in the Tower and made the short walk across the soft green grass to her death on the scaffold, watched by nearly a thousand spectators all come to watch this most notorious of queens die, her name had become a legend in England and most of Europe in the days when she had arrived at the English court and enslaved Henry V111, to the point where he had left his wife for her, and set England on the path to the break from Rome and the founding of the new Church of England, their love affair had scandalised the country and most of Europe and she was blamed by many for causing Queen Katherine and her daughter much unhappiness, to her enemies she would be forever the viper in the bosom of Catholic England, to her supporters she became the good queen of reform who cast aside the old popish rituals and beliefs of Catholism, England would never be the same again and yet when she was born about thirty six years before no one knew what impact she would have on the world stage, Blickling Hall in Norfolk claims her birthplace and she spent her early years there before the family moved to Hever Castle in Kent, where the Boleyns lived and it became a much loved residence of them all, both buildings still exist but the old building of Blickling is altered completely, much work has been done on the original structure which is now Jacobean, but to show its link to its most famous resident there is a charming statue of Anne Boleyn on the staircase, she wears a little feathered hat and stands as if to greet the visitor, Hever from the outside probably still looks much as it looked in Annes day, but it’s early Edwardian owner the wealthy American Lord Astor added a charming Tudor village and a lot was added to the interior, inside the castle there are portraits said to be of Anne and her sister Mary, her bedroom can also be seen and the long gallery is there as it was in Annes day, Henry V111’s richly furnished bedroom can also be seen and it is a beautiful place to visit as Claire can testify and I myself, who visited it many years ago, Anne had known much joy there and sorrow, she had fled there time and again to escape the unwanted attentions of the King, but after promising her marriage it was inevitable Anne was destined for greatness, she had been queen for three years only, she had lived most of her life abroad first as a young girl in the court of Margaret of Savoy, then in the entourage of the Tudor princess Mary who became Queen of France, she served Queen Claude and then was recalled home and went in service to Katherine of Aragon, she was only it is assumed about thirty five to thirty six when she died, yet she had lived a full and exciting life, she had achieved the impossible she had ousted a much loved queen from her position as Queen of England, a daughter of the two most powerful rulers in Europe, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, she had been crowned with the crown of King Edward which was unprecedented in itself, King Henry had married her in secret after weary of the procrastination’s of the pope and the fact she was now pregnant, had decided to make their union legal, but lawyers then and now still debate the fact that Anne was never really his wife and that Henry V111 had committed bigamy when he married Anne, the pope had not issued the dispensation and in fact afterwards he declared he would not, Katherine to the end of her days would declare she was his legal wife and really, her argument carries more weight than Henrys, therefore Anne was merely the whore to many, to the people who disliked her and expecially to Chapyus she was and always would be ‘the Concubine’, years after her death the Catholic recusant Nicholas Sander would heap vitriol upon her in an attempt to discredit her daughter Elizabeth 1st, and Elizabeth was reffered to by one enemy as ‘the daughter of that infamous concubine Anne Boleyn’, she had incited great feelings of love and hatred during her lifetime and those who knew her found it hard to forget her, we can assume also the King himself, the early morning in May 19th 1536 she had dressed herself carefully, we are told she was dressed in grey damask and crimson red with her olive complexion and dark hair and eyes she must have looked striking, she had always dressed with style and this her last day on earth, she was determined to look her best, Sir William Kingston the Constable of the Tower accompanied her along with her women, it is said Henry may have sent her the ones she favoured and disbanded the others in an act of kindness, certainly an eye witness said they showed distress and one observer claims the queen looked as if in a daze when she climbed the steps, stupefied was the word used, another witness said she looked in control of herself and another said she had never looked more beautiful, she could not have slept much the night before as heightened nerves makes sleep impossible, maybe the calmness was due to weariness and maybe, an acceptance of her fate which in all its horror, probably brought some happiness that soon her misery would be over, nevertheless she made the customary speech to the curious eager crowd, there must have been many at the back who craned their heads forward to hear what she had to say, at the front was her enemy Charles Brandon the Duke of Suffolk with young Henry Fitzroy the Kings bastard son and the husband of her cousin, there was the odious Cromwell as well who after her death, hastily reported back to the King that the queen was dead, throughout Anne kept turning around and many historians have pondered she was expecting to see a messenger arrive with a reprieve, the last frantic hope of the condemned, she gave the executioner her bag of coins an old custom and he begged for her forgiveness, it was said her eyes unnerved him, those eyes large and distinctive which many a man had lost his soul to, she took of her hat, not the favoured French one she is often seen wearing in her portraits but the English gable hood, her hair which was one of her many attractions and which was said to ripple down to her knees was pinned up, exposing her slender neck, that little neck which she had joked about she knelt on the straw and the crowd also knelt in respect, she was then was blindfolded, but there is an account which says she refused the blindfold and this could be true as after she was beheaded, the horrified onlookers said they saw her eyes move, unless the blindfold came off, she was praying aloud over and over to herself when her head fell from her body and rolled on the straw, her lips and eyes still moving, one can hear the horrified gasps from the spectators, young Fitzroy fainted and Annes ladies rushed forward to gather her body and head, it was said they were so weak and languid yet they wished no man to touch their mistress, this last task they would perform for her and it must have been the hardest they had ever done and would do again, the torrent of blood that would have spilt from the neck and torso must have stained their clothes and run on the grass yet they managed to carry her to the bleak little chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula, in all the rush to rid himself of his queen Henry V111 had forgotten to inform Kingston about Annes coffin, none was available she had been an anointed queen and died a queen, yet none was prepared to house her once sacred body, her ladies in despair searched and found a rusty old arrow box, hardly befitting for her who had once worn St Edwards crown, whilst they laid her carefully in it Cromwell was travelling back to the King and the canons boomed from the Tower a dismal sound to proclaim the queen was dead, Henry V111 then erased her from memory, her portraits were taken down and destroyed and the stonemasons were busy chiselling out her initials from the great palaces of London, to be replaced with Jane Seymours, Henry was heard never to speak her name again and whilst her body was decomposing, he visited Jane and they discussed their wedding plans, he obliterated her from memory from the court and abandoned their daughter the little Princess Elizabeth, who status was reduced to that of a bastard like her elder sisters, yet her name was not obliterated from English history who regards her as one of her most fascinating women, the fascination Henry V111 once felt for her is felt by us to, her story is constantly being told and I feel that, if the Tower of London stands for another thousand years so will Anne Boleyns story, RIP Queen Anne.

  4. How to remember a murdered and maligned Queen killed 500 years ago? Every year it is harder and harder to think of something to say which has not been expressed before. Anne was innocent of the terrible things laid at her door and her doom was unjustified. This day she walked the short distance from her lodging to the area now known as the parade ground, not far from the official site of the scaffold in front of the Church. She saw there about 1000 people, the nobles and Cromwell and citizens of London, that is the mercantile citizens and political citizens and those who had probably camped out, the Council and Chancellor Audley. She walked up the steps and to the edge to face a crowd she feared would be hostile but in fact many were respectful. Nervously in a low voice she began

    “Good Christian people, I come here not to preach a sermon but to die, for by the law I am judged to die and I will speak nothing against it.”

    Her words reflected those of her brother, who did preach a sermon. However, Anne was more accepting and she spoke with dignity and grace and submitted to her fate. She asked the people to pray for the King, to reign long over them and called him a gracious Prince who had been good and merciful to her and she was quite conventional. Anne raised her voice so as she could be heard and appeared to be bold. She would accuse nobody of the reasons she had to die but asked if anyone would meddle in her cause, they would look on her with favour. She took hee leave of the world. She said nothing of her innocence because convention did not allow it and in this case she didn’t even declare herself a sinner, even a general one, which others had done. To the amazement of the crown no doubt she didn’t show the required repentance of a condemned adulterous traitor, but then why should she? She was innocent and would not wallow in the imagination of others.Anne kept her speech to the minimum requirement and nothing more. She didn’t declare her innocence and protest because there were bigger considerations and again we must remember that as a woman of the sixteenth century and a Queen, she knew what her duty was. She didn’t wallow in self pity or declare that as a sinner from birth she deserved death because that may be misunderstood. She merely submitted to the law.

    Finally, Anne took her leave, forgave the executioner who for some reason Ives described as being “visibly distressed” without any evidence, comforted her ladies and gave them keep sakes, including her prayer book and then prepared for her death. She removed her outer robe and her English gable hood and put her hair under the cap. Kneeling Anne prayed “Lord Jesus have mercy on me. To Jesu I commend my spirit” and as she still prayed over and over, Kingston gave the signal behind her and without her seeing him (there is some disagreement but she was probably blindfolded) the French executioner sent Anne to Paradise with a single stroke.

    I know her ladies didn’t exactly like the Queen, being appointed as spies, although one was an old nursemaid, but there is also debate about just who was present at this gruesome end; however, they were human beings and having been with her through a traumatic 18 days, they could not help but be moved now to tears and are reported as weeping. Their final task was most distressing. Her four weeping ladies were left to cover her head with a cloth and thus her body and carry her remains to the Chapel of Saint Peter in the Tower grounds. Here a hole had been prepared and there was an arrow chest which they used as Henry had overlooked a coffin or shroud. It is assumed that no religious service followed as this was something which was often denied those condemned to death, but in some circumstances a religious would say prayers afterwards as was the custom of priests in their care of souls so I am going to say that I believe, but remember I am not using evidence here, just giving an opinion based on what I know from the customs of the Church, that prayers were said for her soul afterwards. Every day prayers for the collective dead would have been said anyway as part of the Mass and other services and Anne, unnamed would have been remembered. She didn’t die without absolution and she had made confession and received Communion the previous day. She wasn’t excommunicated. Regardless of her personal religion, Anne Boleyn died as a Catholic, with rites as close to the traditional Catholic rite as England allowed in 1536. In any event her name was remembered privately at least, because at Court it was forbidden for the next 20 years. Now her ladies laid her to rest, head and body and the stone was replaced in the floor of the Church. George lay close by and brother and sister were practically side by side, united in death as they had been in life.

    Anne was gone. The Court I am guessing was a little less without her. Anne Boleyn was not just a lover of theology and reform, she loved life and tried to live it to the full. She wasn’t either pious or the life and soul of the party, she was both. People were generally pious at this time, they also remembered how to live well and have fun because life for many was short. Anne loved to dance and sing and put on masquerade. She took part in many of these balls and entertainments and wrote many of them. Some were quite bawdy, some mocking her enemies and Henry enjoyed them. Anne was one of those people who could probably have a conversation about anything. She had an interest in just about everything, just as Henry did. She was surrounded by admirers, which was what made this arrangement so easy to pull off, there was enough material to invent the basis of a believable case, at least on the surface. In reality the crown didn’t have as smooth a ride as they hoped because only one man confessed and if a Queen was going to choose a lover, he was the least likely to choose. Henry had shown concern half way through and look under the surface a little and the holes in the case were growing wider. Not that any of this mattered: the crown wanted the accused to be found guilty and quickly disposed of and that was the end of it. A conversation here, a look there, a woman heard this rumour, someone stayed longer than they should after dinner, the King couldn’t get it up, so someone did the job for him, that was the substance of the well trained crown prosecution case. Now that lovely and lively and witty woman for whom the world was turned upside down was gone; her laughter never to grace the banqueting hall ever again. The Court would still dance, the Court would still hunt, Jane would be graceful and make Henry happy but she was all too briefly around and to be honest Henry was much more of a miserable man after Anne’s death. Something bright and brilliant had gone and there was really nobody to replace her. Henry moved on, from wife to wife, but he never felt the passionate love and deep feelings he had once felt for Anne Boleyn. Yet, somehow that love had quickly turned to hate and with one swift, silent stroke of the blade and the woman of his most ardent desire was no more.

    Out of your charity this day remember and pray for the souls of Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn, Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton and Mark Smeaton, five people cut down in the midst of life, innocent of the false charges against them and executed so their King could remarry and have a son. May they rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon them. Amen YNWA

      1. Thank you, Michael. I must add one correction. I have found the reference for the swordsman being distressed, it was on one of Claire’s earlier posts and she is excellent with references, like me she is strict on this, because people want to read more and know where information comes from.

        The link on this site is her article for 2015 which is To Jesus Christ I Commend My Soul and the reference is (4)
        Letters and Papers Foreign and Domestic Henry Viii Volume 10 January to June 1536, 919.

        Her article of 2016 A Queen is Executed also makes a lot of quotes from the various sources and chronicles of people from the execution.

        It is interesting to note that Thomas Cranmer was visited later that day by Alexander Alesius who didn’t know Anne had been executed and had had a very bad dream. Cranmer told him the bad news by declaring that today Anne would be a Queen in Heaven. I find that very beautiful and I know it’s a declaration of faith and not everyone understands faith, especially under such frightening circumstances, but as a woman of faith, I know that is what ultimately brought Anne peace and inner strength at her end. She I believe was rewarded by mercy in the next life for that faith. Cranmer was distressed but he was able to find meaningful truth in the death of the Queen he “felt bound to more than anyone in this world” which is paraphrased from his letter to Henry Viii earlier in the month. Poor Cranmer gets unfairly dumped on by some fans because he didn’t rescue her and appeared to withdraw support for her but in fact he showed himself “clean amazed” and he remains loyal as she was a supporter of the Gospel and he says so first before saying Henry would not have proceeded against Anne without good reason . He is clearly torn emotionally and politically when writing that letter and like many of Henry’s servants he has to do things at times which he is not entirely happy with. He was trying to be diplomatic. Now in the privacy of his garden in Lambeth with a friend he explains his true feelings.

        The woman he had served as a champion of some of his desires for religious change, although not all, whom he saw as a modest and charitable queen, whom he saw as a follower of the Gospel and a woman of faith and of whom he was fond and believes to be innocent has been done to death, in his eyes without reason. Cranmer and John Fox the man who recorded the lives he saw as saints and martyrs saw Anne as a martyr. While I wouldn’t go that far, she appeared to be a woman of genuine personal faith and I would agree that she was innocent of the charges against her. I would have wept I think as well.

        The reaction to Anne’s execution was not what Henry hoped for, the mayor expressing doubt, the population mumbled, Chapuys apparently was flabbergasted, the Queen of Hungry was horrified, the many people in and around her immediate circle were sure of her innocence, international opinion was very mixed and Henry was about to do something which made him unpopular in the capital.

        I haven’t listened to today’s video but have read a post from another site which gives Chapuys in full and his letter home. Of course today is the date Henry Viii got betrothed to Jane Seymour but his behaviour didn’t do him any favours. Chapuys remarked that although the population are glad at the death of “the concubine” they are not happy that Henry has done this and mumbled against him so soon wanting a new wife . Maybe the population were now waking up to the real reason behind the sudden fall and disgrace of their Queen. Chapuys described a very interesting scene: a barge had been seen going up the river to Greenwich magnificently decorated and with music and fanfare and a banquet on board. Who was at Greenwich? Jane Seymour preparing for her wedding. Who needed such a flash barge? His magnificent Majesty Henry Viii, now celebrating the demise of his second wife and joyfully moving on to his third. No wonder the people mumbled. Yeah, Henry that is how to gain favour, have a river party less than 24 hours after your wife is buried. Henry wasn’t doing himself any favours here and poor Jane Seymour was getting dragged along with him because he had commanded her to prepare to receive him and they were to become betrothed. Very unseemly and Jane had to do a PR job for her first few weeks as Queen. It was her concerns for Princess Mary and gracious ways as a peacemaker which won over the people of London. If people in the capital didn’t like you, no matter how much Cromwell and the King tried to enforce the law, you can’t stop people from talking in the taverns and their homes. This was a PR disaster for the King.

        Thank you again for your kind words.

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