Anne Boleyn and the Tower of London

Posted By on March 17, 2010

People often ask me where exactly was Anne Boleyn executed at the Tower of London and where exactly was she imprisoned. It’s good to know these facts when you go to the Tower of London because you can look for these places and pause for a moment and think of Anne and her story.

But do you know the facts? Do you know where Anne Boleyn was held prisoner and where she was executed?

Anne Boleyn’s Prison

As you know, Anne Boleyn was arrested on 2nd May 1536 at Greenwich Palace. Alison Weir writes of how Anne was accused of “evil behaviour” by Sir William Paulet, Sir William Fitzwilliam and her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, charged with adultery and informed that both Mark Smeaton and Sir Henry Norris had confessed their guilt. Anne denied these charges but it was no good, she was allowed to return to her apartments for her dinner, under guard, and then she was escorted by barge along the Thames to the Tower of London.

Although Traitor’s Gate is often pointed out as the place where Anne would have disembarked, Alison Weir points out that Anne, as Queen, was taken to the Court Gate in the Byward Tower, a private entrance. Here she was met by the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Edmund Walsingham, who was Sir William Kingston’s deputy and then Anne would then have been escorted along Water Lane (in the Outer Ward), past the back of the Lieutenant’s House to the entrance of the royal palace where she was to be imprisoned.

It was ironic that Anne Boleyn was imprisoned in the same lodgings that she stayed in before her coronation in 1533 – the Queen’s apartments in the Tower’s royal palace.

But where are these lodgings?

In “The Lady in the Tower”, Weir describes Anne’s lodgings as lying “on the east side of the inner ward between the Lanthorn Tower and the Wardrobe Tower” and writes of how these apartments were renovated for Anne’s coronation, with Cromwell spending the equivalent of over £1 million pounds to make them fit for the new queen. These Renaissance style apartments were therefore a luxurious prison for Anne Boleyn but a prison is a prison. If you go to the Tower of London today, it is not possible to see Anne’s prison because these lodgings were uninhabitable by the end of the 16th century and demolished by the end of the 18th century. The present half-timbered Queen’s House which overlooks the green is not where Anne was imprisoned as these apartments were not built until around 1540, at least 4 years after Anne Boleyn’s execution.

If you look at the PDF map of the Tower of London at http://www.hrp.org.uk/Resources/Tower%20of%20London.pdf, Anne’s lodgings were apparently situated between the Lanthorn Tower and the Wardrobe Tower, on the South Lawn behind the White Tower (between 38 and 20, or 38 and the raven symbol). If you look at the following 1597 plan you will see the Queen’s Lodgings marked with a “g” – there is also a larger 1597 plan at our “The Tower of London in Anne’s Life” page.

The following video gives you a 3D image of the Royal Palace as it would have been during the reign of Henry VIII:-


(Source: TheBullen1 YouTube)

Anne Boleyn’s Execution

There is a beautiful glass monument on Tower Green which many take to be the place of the scaffold where Anne Boleyn was executed but her execution did not take place there at all. In “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, Eric Ives writes:-

“It was a short journey. Out of the Queen’s Lodgings, past the Great Hall where she had dined on the night before her coronation, through the Cole Harbour Gate (marked Coldharbour Gate remains, number 11, on the map), along the west side of the White Tower and then the first sight of the scaffold.”

Alison Weir, in “The Lady in the Tower”, writes:-

“Anne was escorted across the palace courtyard and through the massive twin towers of the Coldharbour Gate, which stood to the west of the White Tower and led to the Inner Ward of the fortress. Ahead was the scaffold.”

Weir also writes that Anne’s scaffold was “erected on the present parade ground north of the White Tower” and if you look on the map of the Tower of London this is the area between the White Tower (43) and the Waterloo Barracks (40), so this is where you need to go and pause a while to think of Anne Boleyn.

Anne’s Resting Place


Anne’s body and head were placed in an elm chest, which had contained bow-staves for Ireland, and laid to rest in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower grounds, number 10 on the Tower plan. Anne Boleyn was buried in a communal grave beneath the chancel pavement along with other people executed at the Tower.

In 1876, Queen Victoria gave permission for the chapel to be restored on the condition that if any remains were found that they were to be treated with respect and that careful records were kept of any evidence that could identify the remains. During the excavation, a skeleton thought to be Anne Boleyn was found “in the place where [she] is said to have been buried” (quoted in Weir), ony 2 feet below the floor of the chancel. Dr Frederic Mouat, the surgeon on the committe undertaking the excavation, examined the remains and Doyne Bell recorded his findings:-

“a female of between twenty-five and thirty years of age, of a delicate frame of body, and who had been of slender and perfect proportions; the forehead and lower jaw were especially well-formed. The vertebrae were particularly small.”

Basket of roses by the tile marking Anne's resting place

The woman’s skeleton also had ” a well-formed round skull, intellectual forehead, straight orbital ridge, large eyes, oval face and rather square, full chin. The remains of the vertebrae and the bones of the lower limbs indicate a well-formed woman of middle height, with a short and slender neck. The hand and feet bones indicate delicate and well-shaped hands and feet, with tapering fingers and a narrow foot” and the woman was said to have been “five feet, or five feet three inches, not more” in height.

Dr Mouat concluded that the remains were at least three hundred years old and that they were “all consistent with the published descriptions of Queen Anne Boleyn, and the bones of the skull might well belong to the person portrayed in the painting by Holbein in the collection of the Earl of Warwick.”

However, Alison Weir argues against Dr Mouat’s findings, saying that not only is the age wrong but all of the authenticated portraits of Anne show her to have a pointed chin, rather than a “square, full chin” and that no portrait of Anne by Holbein is still in existence today. Weir writes:-

“It is just possible that the bones thought to be Anne Boleyn’s – the diminutive slender female with a square jaw – actually belonged to Katherine Howard, miniatures of whom by Holbein show her with what could be a jutting square jaw.”

She goes on to say that another skeleton, found in the place where Catherine Howard was thought to have been buried, was examined by Dr Mouat who concluded that they belonged to a female of “rather delicate proportions…of about thirty to forty years of age, probably forty years of age”. Weir believes that these bones belonged to the thirty-five year old Anne, not the other skeleton, hence:-

“we can be almost certain that Anne’s memorial stone does not mark the last resting place of her actual remains, and that she lies beneath Lady Rochford’s memorial.”

So, in Victorian time, was Catherine Howard buried as Anne Boleyn and Anne Boleyn buried as Lady Rochford? Perhaps so, although I do think the delicate hands with tapering fingers could well belong to Anne, mother of Elizabeth I who was so proud of her long and elegant fingers. Whatever the truth of the matter, Anne Boleyn’s remains do lie somewhere under the floor of the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, so pause a while in the Chapel and think of Anne.

The tile marking Anne Boleyn's resting place is on the left of the photo (by the roses)

The Monument

The monument on Tower Green has the following words:-

“Gentle visitor pause a while,
Where you stand death cut away death cut away the light of many days.
Here, jeweled names were broken from the vivid thread of life.
May they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage,
Under these restless skies.”

A beautiful poem! But Anne Boleyn was not the only person to have lost her life in the Tower grounds, think also of people like Sir Thomas More, Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton, William Brereton, Sir Francis Weston, George Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Rochford, Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley, Thomas Cromwell and Margaret Pole.

Sources

  • “The Lady in the Tower” by Alison Weir
  • “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” by Eric Ives
  • “Memorials of London Volume I Edited by P H Ditchfield
  • Photos of the Tower of London and Anne’s resting place by Paudie Kennelly.

    Happy St Patrick Day to those of you in Ireland and those with Irish blood – have a great day! And don’t forget to check out the new jewelry – see New Jewelry from The Tudors.

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