Anne Boleyn’s Execution – Is there an Explanation for her Scaffold Courage?

Anne Boleyn's resting place
Anne Boleyn's memorial tile, 19th May 2010

Dr Sarah Morris, who is writing a novel on Anne Boleyn, has written a guest post for the On the Tudor Trail website arguing that Anne Boleyn’s “incredible courage and profound serenity in the face of her imminent oblivion” could be the result of a phenomenon which Steve Taylor, a transpersonal psychologist, calls Suffering Induced Transformational Experiences, or SITEs. Morris explains:-

Clearly, when an individual faces imminent death, as Anne did, this fear-based response becomes heightened to the extreme. When we face our demise, we are forced to confront the loss of our dreams, hopes, status, family, and friends etc; all of our attachments are ripped away. This can lead to a ‘psychotic breakdown’ (or nervous breakdown) of the type that was recorded in the case of Lady Rochford who went mad in the face of her own pending execution in 1542. Or, perhaps more unusually, a person may experience a “break up”; as the ego disintegrates, a new sense of self emerges to fill the vacuum; a sense of self which is fearless and profoundly peaceful. Facing her demise, Anne’s whole identity would have been swept away and as Taylor states, “at this point of devastation and desolation you are, paradoxically, close to a state of liberation”. In modern parlance, we call this enlightenment”

and argues that Anne Boleyn’s fearlessness, the contemporary descriptions of her beauty, “peaceful countenance” and state of mind could be used as evidence of Anne having undergone this phenomenon.

Now, while I think that this is a very interesting argument, and I have always admired Anne Boleyn’s demeanour in her final days and hours, I don’t think that SITEs is the answer to her peace and “enlightenment”. I don’t think that this argument takes into account the following:-

  • Execution etiquette
  • Anne Boleyn’s faith

Execution Etiquette or Choreography

In Tudor times, execution victims were expected to make a good end and executions were carefully choreographed. Although victims were not given a plan to follow, a pamphlet of “Instructions for Your Execution”, in a time when executions were public events attended from childhood everyone knew what was expected of them.

Here is a Tudor execution checklist:-

Accept your fate tick
Face your fate with courage and dignity tick
Make a short speech confessing your sin, accepting the law and judgement tick
Pay the executioner tick
Forgive the executioner tick
Prepare yourself to die, removing clothing and baring the neck tick
Pray tick
Stay still and try to die with just one stroke tick

Anne Boleyn followed this format, this checklist, to the letter. People are often surprised that the usually hot-tempered and outspoken Anne did not take the opportunity to protest her innocence and rant and rave, but Anne did what was expected of her, she behaved and followed the usual execution etiquette so that people would talk of her making a good end and so that her family and daughter would not be tainted by her death.

Anne Boleyn’s behaviour on the scaffold was far from unusual and so I don’t see it as being a case of SITEs, unless we also argue that the likes of Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, George Boleyn and the other men who died on the 17th May, Sir Thomas More etc etc. also exhibited this phenomenon. Catherine Howard was so determined to make a good end that she asked for the block so that she could practise with it!

But what about Anne Boleyn’s hysteria in the Tower, you may ask, how could she go from hysteria to such peace? I think this can be explained by the fact that when Anne was first taken to the Tower of London she had no idea what was going on. She became hysterical, racking her brain as to why she had been taken there, speaking the thoughts that were flying through her head. Isn’t that natural? Once she became aware of the charges against her she calmed down, she understood what was going on and what she was being accused of. I think she also understood that there was no getting out of it, she knew Cromwell, she knew her husband and she knew she was going to die. She accepted her fate and made herself ready for it.

Anne Boleyn’s Faith

Whatever our own religious beliefs, there is no denying that Anne Boleyn had a true and strong faith. Here was a woman who risked her life by owning forbidden literature (heretical works), who promoted the appointment of bishops with reformed views, who encouraged her ladies to read the Bible in English and whose brother prepared her, and dedicated to her, transcripts of works containing Lutheran ideology – her faith was important to her.

When people with a strong and personal faith are faced with challenges, with life-threatening situations and ultimately with death, it is often their faith that sustains them. Anne Boleyn was alone in the Tower. She may have had her ladies with her but they were ladies who had been appointed to spy on her, they were not friends of Anne’s. She could not seek comfort from them, she was not surrounded by loved ones in her time of need. I think it is natural, therefore, that Anne sought solace in her faith, comfort from God through prayer.

I think her peace at the end, her acceptance of her death, was down to her faith and the knowledge that she was going to a better place. Anne Boleyn believed in Christ, she knew the story of his life and death, his end and the ultimate sacrifice he made. She believed that Christ had died for her sins and that she would be with him in Heaven after her death. When Christ was on the cross one of the criminals who was on a cross next to him said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” and Christ replied “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.” That was the promise of salvation and eternal life that I believe sustained Anne Boleyn in those final hours.


No-one can say what Anne Boleyn was really thinking in her final days and what was going through her mind, and this theory regarding SITEs is a very interesting one and does fit with Anne’s behaviour, but I just don’t agree with it. Anne Boleyn’s behaviour was the expected behaviour and it is Lady Rochford, who displayed signs of madness during her imprisonment, or George Boleyn, who took the opportunity to preach at the crowd, who are outside of the norm.

Whatever the explanation for Anne Boleyn’s courage and dignity (and do we have to explain it away anyway?), she is to be admired, as are the others who were innocent and yet accepted such a brutal fate with such bravery. Amazing!


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45 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn’s Execution – Is there an Explanation for her Scaffold Courage?”
  1. I’m with you Claire. SITEs does not take into consideration the cultural ideals of the Tudor era, and misses the point of execution etiquette. I feel we (modern society) feels the need to constatly find genuine pathology beneath every person’s decisions, behaviours, etc. I cannot accept this to be the case for everyone.
    Anne was always a courageous person. No one can every take that away from her. She accepted her fate and knew what to say to avoid any harm coming to Elizabeth and the family and friends she left behind. We can never know how Anne truly felt on her execution day. All I know is she went to her death with dignity and courage of a Queen and an innocent woman, and no one can take that away from her.

  2. I totally agree with your last phrase.. Anne was extremely brave. I also believe that it was her faith in God that granted her peace.

    1. Claire, I was so glad to see your response to this theory. While the idea is fascinating, and certainly appealing to a 21st century mind, it ignores cultural and historical context–which you have supplied so well. Thank you!! Susan (The Creation of Anne Boleyn)

      1. Thanks, Susan. I sometimes feel that we have to explain everything away, like Henry’s behaviour with medical explanations etc., because 16th century behaviour is alient to us. We think “why didn’t Anne speak up for herself” but that is just not the way things were done. Anne did what was expected of her and put her family and Elizabeth first. I’m so excited about your book, by the way!

        1. Claire,I think most any mother would walk through fire for there child,I no I would,Anne was a fearless Queen and she was going to make sure she would be Queen, no matter what the price she would pay. I also think she was stronger then the ,King and to that hangerd him even more ,I saw here death in Anne of a 10000 Days she said ,I am glad to die,for Elizabethso she would sit on the throne,nothing like a mothers Love.Q A :Was Annes corination the month of may aswell as her death? Kind Regards Baroness Von Reis

  3. In her execution day may be it seemed like she was the loser and her enemies were the winner and I think she gave up because she was innocent and they sinned against her with slander so, there was nothing to do anymore.

    In a situation like this that she couldn’t defend herself because the rules were not rules any more and totally out of control, may be SITEs can be considered but I definitely agree with you all that it was her fate gives her the courage and the dignity was already belonged to her. I think also she believed that she will go to a better place, may be it seemed to her that the world is unbearable place or may be she thought that she will go to heaven. And this peace was the peace of mind that knowing that she had done all the thing she could do to survive, as a devouted subject, as a faithful wife and all in a good way. Also that meant nothing to the world because it was a place lack of justice and for saving her daughter she had to accept the law.

    1. These last few sentences ring true to me. She had given her very best as a Queen and as a wife, what else to do but to accept the base and corrupt temporal law, take dignified leave of the world, commending her soul to God for an eternity of peace..

  4. I agree with you–Anne’s scaffold conduct was dignified and courageous, but hardly atypical of the time. The SITE theory strikes me as rather gimmicky.

  5. Yes, I must agree with all of the comments to date, we are trying to find 21st century solutions to a very different age in morals, values, etiquette etc (given the legal age for marriage then, what would we have called them now!). I read this report on Natalie’s Tudor Trails and whilst interesting, I did feel it was designed to appeal to a modern reader rather than anybody with a passion for history or an understanding of Tudor life and times. I prefer to see Anne as a brave woman who met her unjust death in a calm and dignified manner, as befitting of a Queen of England.

  6. Great article, Claire. Glad that you pointed out how many other executed people made “good ends” as Anne did. I think the medical explanations might help understand the behavior of specific individuals (such as the transformation of Henry VIII or the idea hat Mary, Queen of Scots may have been manic-depressive), but more needs to be done to explain culture-wide behaviors.

  7. Anne was a courageous and strong woman. That she could hold her own in game and sport with and against the King was part of his early attraction to her. To have endured the scorn and derision of the courtiers who loved Catherine of Aragon, the crowds that mocked and even attacked her at times, Anne Boleyn would have developed even greater fortitude and resilience. Anne was also a consummate performer. She danced, sang and acted in pageants. I think there is something to be said for the SITEs theory, just as I could make an argument that Anne’s “performance muscle” that gets actors through performances hours after a family death, or walking firmly on a broken ankle on stage (until they get offstage). I think however, the answer is quite simple. She had courage. She realized and accepted her fate. She was proud and was not going to falter here. And by a noble, valiant and courageous (meaning heart-felt, also) she secured her place in the people’s hearts (even those who had not liked her) and gave Elizabeth the safety and respect that would ensure the love of the people when she became Queen. She was a strong woman and a fierce and protective mother. Upholding her reputation was important to Anne, but nothing, not even death was too dear to pay for Elizabeth’s life.

  8. Once again thank you for a very interesting and informative series on Ann. I believe she accepted her fate with dignity knowing that Henry was determined to end the marriage by means ‘fair or foul’ Her faith gave her the courage to meet her Maker in the calm manner that she displayed, a brave woman in the face of adversity.

  9. No one can know what Anne was going through at that time. Was she just doing what was expected or was her spirit already starting its transition to the next world? I think of those martyrs who were burned at the stake, many of whom remained serene. How else do you explain it?

    1. Your guardian angel at your side. And the knowledge that you’re finally going home. The hour of death tries all, and all would need courage to face it, no matter what in what form death arrives.

  10. You know, I have to say that I enjoy having the sciences explain theories concerning behaviors/phenomenon that are common to all of us. After all, SITE is only a theory. We cannot know for sure what is true and what may only be speculation based on observation and studies because the soul of each of us is a wonderfully unknowable thing.
    But, I think that SITE is suspiciously similar to the 5 stages of grief dying as outlined by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Anyone who has had to bear witness to a terminally ill patient (as I have) or a condemned prisoner, can attest to the peace that comes after the person begins to emotionally release themselves from their earthly attachments. This is only if, they have the time to deal with it. Whatever you call it: grace, bravery or SITE, it doesn’t matter because it is the same thing.
    It doesn’t always play out as it did with Anne Boleyn or Lady Jane Grey or Sir Walter Raleigh, because sometimes death comes too quickly. Our minds can’t wrap around the idea of our life being over before we are “ready”. And yes, I think that executions at that time period required a type of etiquette that would reflect postively on the family of the condemned. Faith is another way to allow your consciousness to find peace and acceptance of the inevitable, but with faith, or not, it comes down to emotional release. Was Anne Boleyn brave or did she just have enough time to accept her fate with grace? Isn’t that what we all hope for ourselves and loved ones?

  11. Claire

    I love how you seek out articles, authors etc who have some very interesting theories about AB. Also like the picture of Anne’s grave with the pink and red roses. Makes me cry and wonder if maybe Wyatt has been reincarnated and/or Henry. Anne still garners admiration, respect, love and devotion after hundreds of years have passed.

    After going to the website and reading some more detail on this theory written by Dr. Sarah Morris I understand a little more on what Dr. Morris is actually theorizing.

    I do believe that Anne was following “proper execution etiquette” and she was extremely brave and courageous. Anne also was very careful in her dress, her appearance and her speech. Anne made sure that her outward appearance denoted the image that she wanted people to remember her by. As for her inward perception was one of calm acceptance and humility.

    Maybe Anne’s hysterical outbursts in prison during the first several days were nothing more than speaking her thoughts out loud. As Anne progressed through the trial etc she would have had time to work out in her own mind exactly what was happening and what the final outcome would be. She might have even thought that she failed Henry someway by not producing a living son. I also think that she would not give the satisfaction of breaking down and letting her betters/peers/enemies know that she had been beaten down.

    I think that Dr. Morris and the psychologist are looking at Anne’s behavior with accepted disorders or psychological determined behaviors of the 21st century. But in my own thoughts I think that they were on the right track by introducing enlightenment. They just are not stating it properly. They are using a technical term and making it much more complicated then need be.

    A mind is a mind in whatever century or decade that happened. The reasons for a persons behavior are not only predetermined by the culture etc but by their own experiences. Anne was a person determined by her experiences and learning. She was constantly changing and evolving. So, in that alone would she have not found the center of her being, discarded her earthly ego and reached enlightenment where she knew that she would be joining her loved ones ? Does this not come back to Anne’s strong faith in her religion and beliefs that she would move on to another plane of existence ?

    Do we not believe that a soul reaches enlightenment and nirvana in some religions ? Do not people meditate and try to reach that perfect peaceful and calm acceptance and state ?

    Anne had such a strong sense of self and looking into herself while she was in prison would have revealed to her the one true identity that her religion and faith would have given her. Anne prepared herself for heaven and enlightenment.

    In the end it doesn’t matter by what descriptions of Anne’s behavior people want to
    analyze her by. She was a woman ahead of her time and she went to her death with class, dignity, the bearing of a Queen, composure and extreme bravery and courage.

    We can analyze, we can describe, we can search and theorize but it doesn’t change what happened to Anne in the end. She died well before her time and she died true to her nature and character.

  12. I believe that in some cases, the condemned individuals, as in the case of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, they might have been worried for the safety of their loved ones by making a scene that would be reported back to the King and their families punished for it. By accepting their fate and trusting in their faith, they died a noble death that no one could accuse them of making a scene after their death and dragging the family name through the mud. Family, especially in Tudor times, was all about opportunity and advancement and doing what one could do to make one’s family proud and avoid embarrassment at all costs.

    Conversely, in the case of Margaret Pole, who refused to lay her head on the block and stated she wasn’t a traitor so the executioner had to chase her and hack at her, causing a very gruesome scene even for Tudor times, I think she firmly believed in her innocence and by the time of her death, she had lost almost all of her family at the hands of the Tudors, mainly because they had royal blood and represented a threat and rival claim to the throne.

    Henry VIII took out his frustrations against the family because Reginald Pole, her son, was on the continent preaching against the activities of Henry during the troubled 1530s. That, in my opinion, is what ultimately sealed their fates.

  13. I enjoyed reading about the SITE theory and will check out the original article, but I must agree with the majority opinions stated here: Anne wanted to die well as her culture demanded and she knew the rules; she was desperate to leave Elizabeth in as good a place as she could–a big scene on the scaffold would have hurt both her daughter and the remaining members of her family; her faith, which I believe was a true and strong faith, helped her accept her fate–she believed in heaven and she knew herself to be innocent; as for her earlier hysterics, those have been addressed in the above comments. I agree that she was suffering from shock, terror of the unknown, the suddeness with which she was taken to the Tower and the accusations against her friends and brother. This would have been enough to send anyone babbling. But, as she began to see the situation and take it in, her faith also kicked into high gear–she had the Sacrament brought to her so she could have it ever in her sight and she prayed a great deal. Cranmer visited, and, though he wanted to get her confession, I do believe he cared for her and would have ministered to her spiritually.
    I think as 21st century folks, we forget how very strong a belief system was in place as Europe emerged from the Middle Ages–our age is characterized by doubt and irony; I have troulbe imagining a world where, for Anne and Henry’s childhood and young adulthood, everyone practiced the same faith–a pre-Reformation world is very hard to fathom. But Anne’s faith was formed early on and I do believe this, along with her desire to play her part well to the very bitter end, helped her succeed in her final performance.

    1. I have just finished freading Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir. The author reminds us that Anne had lost nearly everything that mattered – brother, friends, marriage, status. Her reputation was ruined; her daughter’s future uncertain. Her uncle and her father had betrayed her. No wonder Ann was ready to die and ‘took much joy and pleasure in death’ ; that being said her courage and dignity were amazing and even here enemoies were moved.

      1. She lost almost everything. Almost. She had not lost herself. Anne was unpredictable, and could still manage to upset many things had she lived. She had to die because she was too present, too much trouble, and too much to reckon with.

    2. I completely agree (side note, I’m eagerly anticipating your novel later this year and so enjoy your comments on this forum).

      I think your point about Cranmer can’t be understated. He had to provide her comfort and guidance. He was probably the only person in her last days that wasn’t someone spying on her and she could trust to have her best interests and Elizabeth’s best interests at heart (along with Henry and his own of course!)

      I also think that she had finally accepted that Henry wasn’t sparing her life. We have to remember a queen had never been executed before. We have 21st Century hindsight knowing women died often under Henry. But Anne didn’t know that then. For days, she had to be anticipating being banished to a remote castle with Elizabeth or sent abroad.

      The Duchess of Gloucester was accused of trying to get Henry VI killed so her husband could succeed him. She wasn’t killed but instead became a prisoner for life. Henry II for all his actions didn’t kill Eleanor, only imprisoned her. Edward IV had Margaret of Anjou locked up in the Tower but did not have her killed (though she obviously conspired against him). For all the horrible things that Richard III did, he did not kill Elizabeth Woodville who again clearly conspired against him during summer of 1483. (and with good reason!)

      Even knowing Henry, I would think Anne had to think he would cast her off but spare her life. At some point she realized that wasn’t going to be the case. I think that acceptance had to be huge. I also think that Natalie Portman captured some of what the real Anne had to be thinking. That with so many people dying on her behalf she didn’t want to go on living knowing they hadn’t.

  14. I agree, Pauline, that she was weary of this world, especially after having been abandoned by the man who had finally won her heart. His affairs hurt her and then, this complete rejection–to know he wanted her DEAD!! All would have combined to bring on a wish for release from the pain. I don’t think we will ever know her mind, but it is interesting to consider all these possibilities!

  15. As I was reading Dr. Morris’ theory on Anne’s behavior at her execution. I could not help but think of Marie Antoinette. How she matured very quickly in her last months and days and died with dignity when one might have been expected something different considering her behavior up to French Revolution. I think we need to remember that physically we are not much different from our ancestors. We recognize now that our brains are affected by events and/or by injury. We know now that when people are traumatized they are likely to suffer from PTSD. It is all about brain chemistry. What would make Anne Boleyn any different from the convict on death row today. Yes, there were a set behaviors expected from the convict in the 1400s and there is now. I personally find it enlightening to a read a psychological perspective to a historic figure’s behavior. After all, for the most part, we all start out basically as beings that are controlled by our inherited chemistry and our environment. Things happen to us that affect our behavior. The recognition that Anne’s situation caused the neurons in her brain to fire differently and fire the same as others facing the same fate does not seem very far fetched. I much prefer to think that Henry VIII’s change from good king to a feared despot had to do with his inability to produce male heirs, head injuries and sickness than conscious decisions to become cruel. I admire Anne but I don’t want to put her on a pedestal, knowing she was human just like me allows me to feel more connected to her.

  16. Point taken, Perrie. However, I do not think that you are tsking into account the huge part that Anne’s faith played in her being able to face her terrible death so calmly and courageously., as did so many others in these turbulent times.

    This is a great site and it is so interesting to read different points of view

  17. All I can say is when your first three sources cited are from Alison Weir….I have my doubts. And when you have ZERO sources cited by Ives I have even more doubts.

    I think this article would have been helpful if there had been other examples of SITEs to compare Anne Boleyn too. Otherwise, it reads like forcing facts to fit a theory. A more liberated woman who is going to her death? How exactly was Anne Boleyn more liberated?

    And the idea that Henry was attracted to her because she wasn’t one of the submissive English roses prominent at court? And Catherine of Aragon was a simpering Stepford wife? And his older and younger sisters were wallflowers? Please. Heck, why not argue he was attracted to her because she was a strong personality like Margaret Beaufort and he was having grandmommy issues. He was attracted to Anne Boleyn because she was Anne Boleyn.

  18. Another great post! 🙂 Interesting once again! 🙂

    Who really knows what was the matter with Anne and what she was thinking, really at the end…nobody really knows, the only one that would know is Anne and she is not here to say unfortunately and of course her family and her husband the King they would of been the only other ones to have really known but yet again they are not alive so once again they cannot be asked so we just have to go by and with the current information in which is out there and put as well place our theories out there.

    I think it was all down to “destiny as well as fate” in and at the end and wether she wanted to go or not she had to and there was no other way around it, there was no way out for her or the co-accused. Anne met her end with dignity, in a dignified manner and also in a manner which was also brave and courageous. The reports do say that Anne during her time in imprisionment in the Tower one time would be and would go from laughs to hysteria, I think that she was just acting in accordance to the time and the situation and in a way what was and would have been her nature to act.

    A question to any one of you here, if you had been in Anne’s shoes or were to ever be god forbid what would you do, how would you act? or how would you think that you would act? I am sure that you would all be scared being in that position, I know that I certainly would.I would probably of been the same.

  19. Having read Claire’s response to the article, the article, and all the responses written, I think Anne’s demeanor at her execution combined a great many things, including SITE, her faith, traditional responses to execution, shock, and prehaps another phenomenem. In the book “How We Die” sites a true murder case of a child stabbed to death while on a day trip with her mother and sister by a mentally deranged man. He just ran up to the child and started stabbing her. By the time her mother and bystanders pulled him away, the child has been fatally stabbed and was dying. Her mother held her in her arms as she took her last breathes and later said that as she watched her child expired she was amazed because her face went from shock,horror and pain to one of peace and comfort; the mother further stated she knew her child had gone beyond fear and pain and had died in peace. Our minds and bodies are designed to take over when circumstances are overwhelming and release chemicals to help over come pain and fear. In Anne’s case, I think that her mind and body did release those elements necessary for her to remain calm in the face of her death and that enabled her to call upon her faith and strength to take her to execution with the knowledge she would soon be beyond all earthly suffering and thus she was able to face death with a calm dignity.
    Her remarkable dignity was a combination of many things that people have written of here and we will never know which one or if all were the major factor in her calm acceptance of a horrific end. I can’t imagine the feeling to know someone was going to cut my head off and I was expected to kneel quietly and calmly, accepting it without protest. I’m afraid I would be like Margaret Pole and go out kicking and screaming to the end. I am at the age where I am losing family and friends. In the last year the last two children of my paternal grandparents have passed at ages 99 and 91. I was amazed at their attitudes which were “Been there, done that, don’t want to do it again, let’s get on with it, I’m done.” Both of my aunts left this world in complete knowledge of their passing and eager to go; they had simply lived long enough and had had enough of old age and aches and pain. Once they decided they were done; their lives ended rather quickly. The 91 year old aunt was exector of the 99 year old aunt; once that job was finished and all matters taken care of, she simply said good bye to everyone and passed away. My grandfather died 57 years after my grandmother; he never remarried and always said, “I’ll go be with Mama when I know my children and grandchildren are well taken care of.” One night, at age 97, he woke the aunt he lived with, told her to call the priest first and then the doctor that it was time to go. Once the priest arrived and gave him the last rites, he closed his eyes and stopped breathing. We all have what we need when it is our time if we allow ourselves to face it. I can only pray I go as easily as my aunts and grandfather and that I do know when it is my time – Anne knew and utilized her last moments to leave a message to history that has endured time and will continue to inspire others.

  20. Poor Anne. She had a temper to be sure but she did not deserve a traitor’s death. I sincerely hope that Henry had many a bad nights sleep knowing that he had executed an innocent woman. Well, karma came around for him anyway didn’t it? I’m glad he suffered with a painful leg, he deserved much worse not only for Anne’s death but for the deaths of all the other innocent people he killed. What a monster he became!

  21. Dr Morris writes: “This can lead to a ‘psychotic breakdown’ (or nervous breakdown) of the type that was recorded in the case of Lady Rochford who went mad in the face of her own pending execution in 1542”. I always wondered if Lady Rochford, who gave evidence against her own brother and sister-in-law and was complicit in Catherine Howard’s adultery, faked insanity in the belief that legally she would not have to stand trial if she were declared insane. However she failed to take into account Henry VIII’s determination to punish her, hence the Act passed specifically to allow the execution of insane persons. Interestingly, although she remained “in a frenzy” until the end (according to Chapuys), she managed to recover sufficiently to make an appropriate address to the crowd before the axe fell.

    In Anne Boleyn’s case, not only would she have known the futility of fighting against Henry once he had made up his mind, her faith would, after the initial shock of being arrested and brought to the tower, have given her the serenity to accept the things she could not change. Furthermore, I believe that having lost everything and knowing herself to be innocent of the crimes for which she was executed, she truly believed she was destined for a better place, hence her calm acceptance of her fate.

    The SITEs explanation fails to take into account the miracles that strong faith can achieve. During this period of history, how many Catholic and Protestant martyrs were horrifically tortured before execution, without denying their faith?

    Therefore, in my view, neither Lady Rochford nor Anne Boleyn suffered a psychological breakdown or SITEs. They were both strong women, in different ways. Anne’s intelligence and faith helped her achieve a state of calm acceptance, whilst Lady Rochford once again displayed deceptive characteristics and used them to try to avoid execution.

  22. I don’t think it’s any different to executions in America I have seen on TV. The “victims” seem to go calmly and bravely for the most part. It’s too late to worry and throw a fit at the last minute. Anne Boleyn had lost everything and there was nothing left for her had she been reprieved at the last minute, I think this helped her accept her undeserved fate.

  23. I would just like to point out that there is no factual evidence about Jane Rochford testifying against Anne or George and that we also do not know if she had a breakdown or was faking one. There is not enough evidence to state what happened to Jane or how she felt when faced with death. I don’t think we can ever know how Anne felt because we do not live in her world and we can not go back in time to visit it. I remember that the average life was about 35 years and people saw a lot more of death than we do. They would have seen bodies displayed for crimes and heads on pikes. Death was something that seems a lot closer than it does today. We do not see death and for some of us we have never seen anyone die, My first real experience was when my grandparents passed away. I think Anne’s strong belief in God ultimately helped her face hew own death with the dignity that she showed,

    1. Whilst there may be no factual evidence about Jane Rochford testifying against Anne or George, when mentioning Lady Rochford I used the words “gave evidence”, as in “gave evidence to Cromwell”, not that she testified against them at either of their trials. Both Weir and Ives quote sources which appear to support that whatever she said provided or at least helped Cromwell with the evidence he was seeking. However, even if she played no part whatsoever in the cases of Anne and George, there is factual evidence that she was complicit in Catherine Howard’s adultery, which shows that on at least one occasion she was prepared to engage in deception. I agree that no one knows whether she had a breakdown or was faking one, which is why when I referred to it I wrote “I always wondered if Lady Rochford…” as I am giving my personal opinion and not “stating” facts or evidence. I totally agree that encountering death on a daily basis, whether from illness or executions, would have given them a very different view on it than we have today.

  24. What a plethora of interesting comments and thoughts regarding attitudes towards death, both now and then. A timely debate to bear in mind as the anniverary of Anne’s death approaches.

  25. Excellent article. I agree with Anne Barnhill that Anne’s concern for Elizabeth would have been uppermost in her mind. To protest innocence would be to disagree with Henry and that would have been bad for Elizabeth and Anne’s extended family. We know there were plenty of them because Elizabeth took care of them when she reigned.

    I agree that the aristocracy held to standards of etiquette even at the point of death, but not all of them. Think of poor Margaret Pole!

  26. I agree with you Claire, she followed the correct proceedure of someone about to be executed in those times, to minimise damage to her loved ones.
    Also the strong religious conviction, that most people had then, when life was so fragile, taken away so quickly either by sickness, or the whim of a despot king, it gave people a hope of better things, a crutch to lean on.And it gave Anne the strength to face her own death.
    And finally, I think she was just plain tired, the road to the crown was long, the fight to keep the king interested, and the pressure of trying to produce a healthy living son. Emotioal stress of being torn from her daughter, and her brother’s execution. Then the mental stress of her arrest and trial. After all that the execution was probably faced with a sense of relief, freedom . A very brave lady.

  27. I think it was a combination of many things. She would have been mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. We can’t think she got much sleep in the tower and through that whole ordeal, can we?

    You can only panic and cry so much though, before acceptance sets in, and you go kind of numb. Her brain must have been positively fried from all the stress, fear and heartache. Her husband was having her killed, afterall..that had to wound her deeply.

    After all he went through trying to dissolve his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, clearly he needed a way to just get rid of Anne. It’s a terrible shame that he didn’t give her a chance to agree to a divorce or to admit their marriage wasn’t valid on some ground, and chose instead to be so vicious about it, but then again, we just can’t know, can we? Maybe he did offer and she refused..maybe he never’s not like we have every document ever written then to draw from.

    I also wonder if there were any kind of drugs then. Valerian root? Did they have substances from physicians then to help with sleeplessness or nerves? Some kind of herb or tonic she might have had at her disposal?

    Alcohol she might have been able to drink to calm her nerves?

    If I were being marched to a scaffold and had access to something like that, I’d sure as heck take it! I’m a needle phobic person and guzzle sedatives before any medical procedure that terrifies me.

    I create the illusion of someone dignified and calm then, too!

  28. I deeply believe Anne was completely composed and calm at her execution and at peace with the world, as much as that can be.
    There is, however, something I always loved about her execution speech (wow, there’s a weird sentence..). One particular sentence she said, that really, is not covered by the outline of what-an-execution-speech-should-be. She said “And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best.”
    This, for me, is her saying “I’m innocent and if you think about it you will know it. ” Just think about the sentence – she’s basically saying ‘Look at my cause from another point of view, without presumptions and prejudice.”
    Simply amazing how she managed to weave this in there without accusing or angering anyone.

  29. I donot fear death, just the the nature of getting there, I want to die warm inmy bed just go to sleep and God will take you.Anne new what her fate was and delt with it the best way she could. If I was to be Burnd or Be Headed,take my head ! Most of all I think she was sadden as she would not see Elizabeth grow and become Queen. I agree with Sway as there was no turning back,Beheaded is a fast death.IClaire I was watching the BBC and heard that there was a dead girls body on one of the Queens properties,she had been there for months. They say 3 young have gone missing, what do you no about this? Could this be a seriel killer?

  30. There are, according to the Kubler-Ross model, 5 stages when faced with certain death:

    *Acronym: DABDA as it is known.

    Perhaps Anne’s actions while she was jailed confirm that she actually experienced all of these stages?

  31. Anne had passed through her dark night of the soul the day before the execution by coming to terms with her fate. She knew she was innocent and she had a strong faith in the mercy of God. She committed her soul to Jesus and she spent the night in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Anne had made her peace with the world, even sending a servant to beg forgiveness from Princess Mary, whom she had wronged, However, there were three delays in her execution and that distressed poor Anne as she believed on the 18th May that she would be dead and ‘past her pain’. While more life is always welcome, she must have wondered what was going on. She was distressed by the delays and did not understand how to react: she prayed more and tried to settle down for the last night of her life by talking with her ladies and some final prayers. She had made a confession and heard Mass: declared that she was innocent.

    The next morning a more calm Anne, again made herself ready and prayed, and by this time she was past her fears and her anguish and accepted her fate. She was able to die with dignity and with courage. Her speech does not just show courage, it shows haughtiness and some bravado. She makes many very traditional statements, prays for the King, will not speak against her sentence and encourages others to be loyal to Henry. She is protective of herself and her daughter in doing so and is saying much that is expected. But the way that she delivers the speech is what is remarkable. She did so with clarity and did not falter in her courage. She made a good end. She is a little nervous that the headsman will strike before she finishes her prayers and looks around, but while she is distracted the French headsman strikes and mercifully she only has to bear one clean blow. Her courage does not fail her as her faith in herself and her belief in God does not fail. She may not be a religious martyr but she was still an innocent woman, able to die well because she knew she was innocent.

  32. It appears Anne Boleyn’s “enlightenment” was simply her submission to her God, to Jesus Christ (to whom she entrusted her soul) and that her time on this Earth was at its end. Her ability to follow protocol surrounding one’s own execution is proof of her being raised to be a lady at all times. I found the fact that she tucked her clothing around her ankles so that she wouldn’t ‘flash’ after her death poignant as hell.

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